‘Hamlet’ is potentially William Shakespeare’s most famous, accessible and adapted work.
Regularly staged, the title role is also one of the most coveted and challenging parts in mainstream professional theatre.
It has been played by renowned actors including John Gieldgud, Peter O’Toole, Richard Burton, Stacy Keach, Ian Charleson, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw, Paul Giamatti, and Benedict Cumberbatch.
Notable motion picture adaptations starred Laurence Olivier (1948), Nicol Williamson (1969), Mel Gibson (1990), and Kenneth Branagh (1996).
Tom Stoppard even created a charming pastiche, ‘Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead’ (1966), shifting focus to a pair of minor characters from the play. That too, was filmed in 1990.
The New Working Group is an independent collective of local theatre creatives and artists. This eleven – strong team consisting of writers, directors and designers, uses their shared talents as a platform to develop exciting new projects from scratch. Past productions are ‘Dream Home’, ‘Ground Control’ and ‘Triumph’, with ‘House’, ‘Little Prince, Big Prince’ and ‘Wing Attack Apocalypse’ currently in development.
Their latest major presentation is called ‘Anti – Hamlet’. Written, directed by and starring Mark Wilson, this world premiere piece is currently playing at Theatre Works in St. Kilda. As the name suggests, the show draws irreverent inspiration from The Bard’s lauded text, themes and plot points.
Serious Shakespeare aficionados will glean much from this experience. So, there is no need for this reviewer to do a play by play of the original story. Instead, Wilson creates a smart comic – drama, using pull quotes from ‘Hamlet’ to drive his politically and sexually charged descent into madness. The real life figure of Sigmund Freud is woven into the tale, serving as psychoanalyst to each of the key players.
For lovers of experimental theatre, ‘Anti – Hamlet’ is everything one can want and more.
Wilson and his company smash the fourth wall, drawing viewers into a radical, fearless and entertaining world. There are asides to the audience, meanwhile peeling and adding layers of interaction between characters. It is a fascinating head space to watch unfold. Like opening up the back of a working clock to study its moving parts, here, even the back stage crew become an integral component of the journey.
As the title character, Wilson is both the glue and the foundation that holds this production together. Both protagonist and observer, like Bobby from the musical, ‘Company’, his Hamlet moves in and out of the spotlight where necessary.
Every cast member has his or her moment in the spotlight.
Marco Chiappi (as Claudius) gives his role arrogant and entitled swagger, a tongue – in – cheek parody of Australian politics transposed.
As Gertrude, Natasha Herbert reminded me of a certain infamous foreign minister both in looks and presence. If that was the intention, then her exacting approach to the role was deliciously knowing.
At times, Brian Lipson’s Sigmund Freud threatens to steal the show. Lipson’s part in the cliff-hanger conclusion to part one, had me in hysterics.
Charles Purcell gives Edward Bernays (the real life nephew of Freud, considered the father of public relations) smug appeal and charm, much like a motivational conference circuit speaker.
Natascha Flowers (Ophelia) is both Hamlet’s rock and rug. She has the most difficult two – faced task; playing both supporting advocate and betrayal at the same time.
As Horatio, Marcus McKenzie provides sweet moments of comic foil where needed.
Under Wilson’s own direction, there are times when the show teeters on the brink of collapse. But by daring to walk the high wire and keeping the audience always guessing, that is probably the point.
From a technical perspective, nothing is left to chance.
Spare yet multi – purpose, Romaine Harper’s set design creates a universe apart. If all the world is a stage, her vision sits a rectangular scaffold box front and centre inside Theatre Works vast space. Complete with a red curtain drawn and opened at regular intervals, it is like a magician’s secret chamber. Two television monitors sit atop the proscenium, detailing each act as well as presenting ISIS messages inspired by American rap.
Harper is also responsible for costuming.
Here, each character is defined by their garments. For example, business attire worn by characters such as Claudius, Edward Bernays and Freud suggest both power and aspiration at the same time. A stunning serious of elaborate gowns showcased in quick succession by Gertrude, underline royal frivolity and disconnect from their subjects.
Amelia Lever – Davidson presents lighting that provides story and character focus where necessary, aptly supported by Tom Backhaus (who is responsible for sound).
Production management (Catherine Scobie), stage management (Jacinta Anderson) and assistant stage management (Piper Huynh) are clear yet subtle. That Wilson’s vision is one of deconstruction, their support keeps proceedings very much on track.
Much like the work of similar production teams such as Little Ones Theatre or 5 Pound Theatre, this show is all a bit crazy, campy, fearless, and fun. Check it out.
‘Anti – Hamlet’ is running for a strictly limited season until 13 November.