Chancellor College Performance Centre
Friday March 28 2014
Reviewed by Xanthe Coward
How can we look after our own mental health?
Drama Discipline Leader of USC, Jo Loth, wanted to make Hamlet relevant to her students and what better way than to incorporate MYTERN SMS?
MYTERN is an acronym for Take Emotional Responsibility Now. As part of her PhD studies, Jane Foster offered MYTERN SMS to the USC student community.
Foster has been running the service from her own mobile phone, offering daily text messages to students for inspiration, motivation, comfort and support.
Participants gave permission for their messages and feedback to be used for publishing purposes, and in this case, within Loth’s newly adapted production of Shakespeare’s classic tale of teen angst and a family in dissolve.
With two Hamlets on stage, a male and a female, the interpretations are interesting and not always as contrasting as one would think, though this may be due to shared rehearsal time and collaborative work on the character. A monologue is treated as dialogue, and there are times when I wonder about the effect of the role played solely by a female.
There is less need for the actors to raise their voices than they appear to think there is, with much of their shouting becoming ineffectual through over-application; we miss words and we cringe with Ophelia. These are young performers with minimal training and it shows, despite their best efforts to perform with gusto and fully commit to their roles. I’ll look forward to seeing them again in future, with a little more training and stage experience under their belts.
The Creative Industries Drama Major course is designed to produce entrepreneurs who can find or create work in a number of fields. Performance Skills Laboratory 1 (Acting 101) has brought them to a point where they are (mostly) confident in the space, however, I suspect lack of time has been a hindrance on students’ understanding of the text, and also with regard to connecting voice and body and character. We get a more fully realised performance from a mature age student, Lyn Stevenson; the same woman who stood out from the rest in USC Drama’s debut production, R&J (2013).
The production cleverly incorporates Foster’s research by giving students’ responses to her text messages to white clad ensemble figures in between the familiar scenes. The focus shifts from Hamlet to Ophelia, and her death, which brings a sudden change in pace and an unexpected conclusion. The ensemble, like a Greek Chorus or a shiver of sharks, circle Ophelia on her pedestal/coffin and take their places downstage to remind us that mental health is, indeed, a serious issue.
The template is potentially a wonderful resource for schools and community groups. It deserves further dramaturgical development and I’d love to see it receive the funds that would make publishing possible. This way, the (anonymous) personal stories can be easily incorporated, making the original story and local content relevant to entirely new audiences.
Loth has big ideas and at times very little to work with, but her gift is in going beyond our expectations and boldly challenging our notions of what theatre is and what role it plays within contemporary society. The potential of performance, to change how we see the world and each other, is evident in each original production Loth undertakes.