Hamlet. Bell Shakespeare. The Playhouse, Canberra Theatre Centre. Until April 16. canberratheatrecentre.com.au.
Bell Shakespeare's latest Hamlet has finally made it into town and what a gorgeously rewarding interpretation it is.
Of course it takes liberties - every production from the school room to the professional stage and film takes liberties with this huge play. With Harriet Gordon-Anderson in the role the part is in superbly safe hands.
It's a youthful reading supported by the 1960s costumes but bleakly underpinned by the cold tree lined white walls of the set, old faded family seaside films and the frequent falling of snow.
Following the death of Hamlet's father the court of Denmark is abruptly headed by his brother (Ray Chong Nee's grey-suited and pragmatic Claudius) and Hamlet's mother Gertrude (Lucy Bell) has married him in a move that looks both political and personal.
Enter the Ghost of Hamlet's father (an understated presence from James Evans), drifting through in grey suit and hat to trigger the events that will lead to the unwinding of many lives.
The ever earnest Polonius (Robert Menzies) sends off his student son Laertes (Jack Crumlin) with a load of advice while Ophelia (Rose Riley), assertive but vulnerable in crisp 1960s A-line dress and white stockings, remains behind. Amusing, warm, but the last glimpse of a family which like Hamlet's will be destroyed.
Gordon-Anderson's treatment of Hamlet's alleged madness is a brisk one. The focus is on sorting out the truth of the Ghost and eventually acting upon it. Rosencrantz (Jeremi Campese) and Guildenstern (Jane Mahady) are amusingly and clearly no match.
Tight casting brings Evans back to parallel his Ghost with the Player King in The Mousetrap, amusingly coupled with Eleni Cassimatis as a bumptious Player Queen and poisoned by Crumlin's dryly Scottish assassin. Chong Nee's Claudius' shadowed reaction to the scene that comes near the murder of his brother is illuminated by a powerful showing of his attempts at prayer.
Gordon-Anderson and Bell follow this up with a taut reading of the closet scene. Hamlet can see his father's Ghost but Gertrude cannot. What she starts to see is her own guilt and that of Claudius.
It all unravels under the occasional falling snow of Anna Tregloan's set and the subtle lighting from Benjamin Cisterne. Polonius' death happens with an unusual bit of set reversal that emphasises how out of tune he is with events. Ophelia's lost-girl 1960s madness is dry and coloured somehow by the production's occasional reference to the bleaker Beatles songs. Her funeral is only briefly cheered by Evans' relentless grave digger in black-humoured exchange with Hamlet .
Then it is on to the final moves in the plot, the duel and the deaths that leave the understanding but powerless Horatio (Jacob Warner) to explain. There's no Fortinbras in this production to take over and be explained to but this is not a military Hamlet. The emphasis has been throughout on the humans.
And that's its power. Something human comes out in this Hamlet that is served by a departure from a gender-locked approach.
It leaves you satisfied to face life or death with balance and humour and equanimity. And that's down to Gordon-Anderson's young, focused and uncompromising Hamlet at the centre of it all.
Not to be missed.
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