Theatre Review: Hamlet – The Barking Gecko Theatre Company & WAAPA – Subiaco Arts Centre (15.03.13)

  • Simon Clark
  • March 17, 2013
  • Comments Off on Theatre Review: Hamlet – The Barking Gecko Theatre Company & WAAPA – Subiaco Arts Centre (15.03.13)

Hamlet is one of Shakespeare’s most famous and oft performed plays. It is a play that has become deeply engrained in popular culture and most can quote a line from the play. The main character is an iconic role, one which many actors strive towards. Though it is a tough act to follow, with the likes of Kenneth Brannagh, Jude Law, Mel Gibson and Laurence Oliver being just some of the actors to have played the eponymous anti hero. The play is also Shakespeare’s longest, nearly 30,000 words in total, and something like a four hour run time when performed in full.

It is also the subject of first collaboration between the Western Australian Barking Gecko Theatre Company and the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA); a collaboration that sees third year acting, design and production students, working alongside a professional director and creative team.

I approached the performance with a middling sense of expectation. I’d seen WAAPA productions before, and been impressed on occasion by the quality of the performance from some members of the cast. This production was no different. Throughout the play I found myself impressed by James Sweeny’s portrayal of the doomed Danish prince. It was a clever and balanced performance, even in full “antic disposition” mode he didn’t force it, and at no point did his performance feel overwrought or overbearing. With no discredit to the other actors on stage, his is the performance that has stuck with me the longest.

The rest of the cast did an admirable job of bringing Shakespeare’s characters to life, with only a few barely noticeable slip-ups in delivery. The slapstick comedy of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, played by Felix Johnson and Ayeesha Ash, was a nice touch, providing a humorous counterpoint to their off-scene demise. Overall it was a solid performance from the whole cast, made all the more remarkable when you take into account they’re still students.

The work was billed as a fresh contemporary interpretation of the work, and to some extent this was true. The creative team certainly appeared to experiment with new approaches to the play- some worked, others didn’t. One example that worked was Elsinor being transformed into a dilapidated psychiatric hospital, replete with blinking lights and uncomfortable plastic chairs, and the watchmen replaced with janitors. It provided a different focus towards the themes of madness in the play, and demonstrated another sinister angle to the notion of Denmark as a prison.

However, there were other aspects that didn’t work quite so well for me. I felt they overplayed the Oedipal relationship between Hamlet and his mother, telegraphing that thematic angle right from the outset. I also felt the change of Polonious from a male to a female character served little purpose, in so much that in the long run it didn’t offer any major new insight into the character, or their relationships with the other characters- particularly that of Ophelia. Also the meaning behind the two clowns during Ophelia’s funeral was lost on me.

Whilst some aspects of the play did not work for me, there are many positives to draw from the production, most notably Sweeny’s performance as the eponymous anti-hero. All in all it was an interesting and ultimately entertaining rendition, and one which is well worth the price of admission.

Hamlet is running at the Subiaco Arts Centre in Perth until Friday 22nd March.


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Simon Clark

Books Editor. An admirer of songs and reader of books. Simon has a PhD in English and Comparative Literature. All errant apostrophes are his own.