****.5 STARS

By Chris Hosking

The Malthouse’s Because The Night is not a production of Hamlet.  But, who said it would be anyway?  So, what is this quasi-Hamlet that’s sold out shows even with two performances per night?  Put simply: it’s the biggest and boldest re-imagining of a night of theatre to grace Melbourne.  Because The Night is part immersive experience, part escape room, part found, part site-specific theatre and fully make your own theatrical adventure in the flesh.

To say the majority of the Malthouse has been transformed feels like an understatement: the building has been transfigured and transmogrified.  There’s no theatre to bring your drink into and politely allow people to brush past to their seats – instead, expect (and delight) to find a maze of rooms and secrets for you to discover, either via your own curiosity or by pursuing a chosen actor as they crisscross through passageways, hidden rooms and larger open spaces to meet, argue, and fight with other characters.

Donned in black capes and masks, ghosts of Elsinore, we as an audience are invited to uncover the mystery.  We are allowed to touch the set and its ridiculously detailed objects, but are kindly asked not to directly engage with the actors.  After all, there’s six actors amongst the maze of rooms that is Elsinore.  The show will helpfully start you off in one of several entry points where a two-handed scene will kick off the night, and as the short scene wraps up, audience members are free to choose which actor to follow further, or for the more rebellious, do your own exploring of rooms or go find another character!  As a warning note here, should you only ever follow the characters, there are certain rooms that you will never get to!  Conversely, should you solely hunt for the secrets of Elsinore, you may be missing some cracking scenes while you’re at it.

By its very nature, as audience members are creating their own experience, following characters, or conflicts as they play out, we all leave with a unique take on Because The Night.  Beyond the unique nature of the experience, there’s also two separate casts performing, and it’s the reviewers understanding that the two casts were encouraged to find their own strengths and choices and not endeavor to be carbon copies.

To chat too much about the divergences between Because The Night and their Hamlet-y inspiration would be to spoil some of the fun.  Suffice to say, there are new energies flowing into this production which the show runs with: energies of disaffection, yearning for change, colonial commentary and ecological justice.  There are also active choices about gender roles that are tremendously rewarding.

Sharing roles are: Nicole Nabout and Maria Theodorakis as Claudia, Belinda McClory and Jennifer Vuletic as Gertrude, Khisraw Jones-Shukoor and Keegan Joyce as Hamlet, Tahlee Fereday and Artemis Ioannides as Ophelia, Ras-Samuel Weldaabzgi and Harvey Zielinski as Laertes & Rodney Afif and Syd Brisbane as Polonius.  While it may feel cruel for a production to at once include both McClory and Vuletic and then separate them across casts, the cast certainly feels balanced and very much sitting in their strength and power.

There’s clearly been a phenomenal amount of work to conceive and execute the show, with direction & concept provided by Matt Lutton, assistant direction by Bridget Balodis, and text duties shared by Kamarra Bell Wykes, Ra Chapman & Lutton again, and Mark Pritchard providing his usual dramaturgical prowess, (on presumable particular display here).

However, for my money, it would be Dale Ferguson (set design / architecture), Marg Howell (set designer / interiors) and Matilda Woodroofe (asst. set designer / interiors) that need to get out and take their bows.  This is a towering achievement of design and dedication to detail.  Every inch is perfect.

As a final note, on money, it should be noted these aren’t your regular ticket prices.  It’s also not your parent’s theatre show, and an incredible experience, so do what you want!  This show will certainly let you.

Images: Pia Johnson