Monday, 20 July 2015

Hamlet - Just for the Words

Went to see director Damien Ryan's production of Hamlet for Bell Shakespeare at Melbourne Arts Centre on Saturday, with Josh McConville as the prince himself. You wouldn't want to be daunted by those who've come before to play this most celebrated role: John Gielgud, Richard Burton, Kenneth Branagh, Mel Gibson, Jude Law, Ralph Fiennes, David Tennant and recently the fascinating Benedict Cumberbatch, to name but a few. My favourite still, despite his sometime bizarre behaviours since, has to be Mel Gibson in Franco Zeffirelli's sublime film. Gibson was just the right age, fabulous to watch and with those mad eyes, just right for Hamlet's wild wrestlings with love, grief, suspicion, revenge, rage and despair.
But Josh McConville did a fine job and I found his performance riveting as the questionably reliable narrator. There were a few weak characters in my ever-so-humble opinion - Claudius in particular was unsatisfactory and Ophelia didn't come near to what Ophelia should be - far too flouncy and pert to be a figure of such tragedy and though she handled her descent into madness very well, no-one but Hamlet seemed to care very much when she died (Gertrude especially recovered with amazing speed). And I too was unmoved. (This was also the verdict of those around me in our little post-play exchange in the foyer afterwards). She had one of those universal accents acquired from television and I expected her at any moment to say "OMG! That's awesome!"
Costuming was odd, a mixture of small suburban office types and the Brunswick Street breakfast crowd.
But the costuming is largely irrelevant. It's the words we go for, isn't it? Those oh-so-famous speeches that half the audience knows by heart - what pressure to deliver those and hope to satisfy! For me the rhyming couplets at the end of many of the scenes are the milestones that make me catch my breath, waiting -

Foul deeds will rise, Though all the earth o'erwhelm them, to men's eyes. 

The play's the thing, Wherein I'll catch the conscience of the king!

The time is out of joint. O cursed spite, That ever I was born to set it right!

But the pinnacle of words in Hamlet brought tears to my eyes, as ever, and made the lady beside me suck in her breath and clutch both hands to her mouth and yes, I saw tears glistening there too.

Poor Horatio, to have to deliver these exquisite, heartbreaking lines -

"Now cracks a noble heart. Good night sweet prince,
And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!"

Read them aloud, and weep.
~ * ~

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