“The wheels of justice turn slowly” and this was made abundantly clear to the audience in the opening performance of this theatrical trial.

The idea behind Roger Bernat and Yan Duyvendak’s presentation is the trial of Shakespeare’s Hamlet for the murder of Polonius. The conceit here is to have real legal teams represent judge, prosecution and defence lawyers, with members of the audience selected as the jury.

It should have been fascinating. How often has the comment been made that courts are theatrical? What better idea then that a theatrical trial? Except that if the lawyers are working in real time rather than “theatrical time” the presentation runs the risk of becoming tedious. This opening performance ran for almost three and a half hours…so many people left during the evening. Certainly the workings of the court system were interesting to begin with but the repetition and reiteration went on too long. Twice The Honorable Professor George Hampel AM QC, as the Judge, told the Prosecutor to move on. It should have happened more often. Perhaps the legal teams need timers? Or, like the TV series, “Hypothetical” there could have been a moderator to keep things moving.

The staging was incredibly basic, with plain white tables for the legal teams and a table on a platform for the Judge. Technology was an issue, with microphone problems and mishaps with the laptop providing the visual evidence for the court. Hopefully these will be resolved for the remaining performances. The House lights remained up for the entire event, no doubt to indicate a courtroom atmosphere rather than a theatre, but the bright lights were not only glaringly distracting, they made it difficult to focus on the court proceedings and block out the comings and goings of the audience.

Ophelia (Jessica Clarke) and Gertrude (Genevieve Picot) were called as witnesses. Both managed to capture the essence of the Shakespearean character they portrayed, answering questions spontaneously. Ms Picot in particular showed her commitment to the role as she watched her son under cross examination. The program notes and the co-creator’s address to the audience informed us that this was an unrehearsed event.

As Hamlet, Chris Ryan, was far from the heroic figure one might expect. Mr Ryan often seemed to be searching for words. His frustration and mental disarray were not transmitted through his body language and his tentative answers seemed odd, given that the team for the defence usually drill the client’s answers thoroughly before a trail. In this case, without rehearsal, one assumes that was not possible.

John Champion SC was a stern prosecutor but the star of this performance was Lesley Taylor QC as Hamlet’s leading defence barrister. She displayed excellent timing and use of vocal techniques; she was commanding and appeared in control at all times. Definitely a woman to have on your side.

Those who attend this event during the Festival will see a very different trial each night. A new legal team for each performance means the direction of the case, the cross-examinations and the outcome will be different every time. It really is a brilliant idea for a performance; it simply needs tightening up so that everyone will remain to hear the outcome and that the process itself will be more compelling.

Mr Duyvendak’s summation to the audience about the results of other presentations of this piece overseas would have made a fascinating foyer display rather than him reading out a list of numbers.

 

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