The Australian Shakespeare Company’s newest season of Hamlet, set on the lush lawns of Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens, where the audience is able to revel in an outdoor setting that adds a new dimension to the ‘murder most foul’.
As the summer sky darkened, so did Prince Hamlet’s breakdown of sanity. Andre De Vanny’s portrayal of Hamlet nail-bitingly teeters on the line between sanity and madness, keeping the audience in perpetual suspension never knowing whether Hamlet’s facade is in full swing, or if the sun is setting on his sanity as well as the evening around us. His performance was undeniably show stealing, as his versatility was a treat. Emily Goddard as Ophelia, Andrew Coshan as Laertes, and Alison Whyte as Gertrude, were also standouts. Whyte’s spiral into horror as the men around her become beasts was well-developed, and a pleasure to watch.
The Director, Glenn Elston’s choice of stage design enhances poignant moments and really plays to the advantage of the soliloquies of the cast. This allowed the audience a peek into the characters’ minds, heightening the sense of connection between audience and actors. Elston’s decision to separate the actors from the main stage when soliloquizing to intensify it was a great way to make the psychological nature of the play really ‘pop’. The way the actors interacted with the platform changed how the audience sees the typical spatial confines of a theatre in a really bold way.
The cuts in place in this production didn’t hinder the intelligibility of the script, making it a more streamlined version of the original play. The pacing was also snappy, condensing this 4-hour monster play to a more digestible 2 and a half hours. However, this led to some of the pacing being a little fast in some moments that felt they should’ve been teased out more. In addition, some of the establishing scenes could’ve been shortened to add more weight and room to breathe for the climaxes at the end.
This version of Hamlet is gripping, as the acting, stage direction, and outdoor setting breathe new life into this dusty classic. Head to the Botanical Gardens this Summer to be transported into Shakespeare’s reworked masterpiece.
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The Australian Shakespeare Company’s Hamlet is on at The Royal Botanical Gardens’ Southern
Cross Lawn until the 9th of February 2020. Tickets can be purchased at hamletlive.com.au