The world is ending. On the eve of the apocalypse, seven actors come together to stage Shakespeare’s Hamlet, that infamous tale of crippling indecision, madness real and feigned, and murder most foul. Over the course of the production, the lines between fiction and reality begin to blur, as the cast try to come to terms with the horror of their situation, yet still deliver a performance fitting for the world’s end.
After hugely successful seasons across Australia since its 2011 inception, The Hamlet Apocalypse returned to Brisbane this week. Helmed by the team from The Danger Ensemble, artistic director Steven Mitchell Wright has once again taken the reigns of this dystopian take on one of the Bard’s most famous works.
The end result is equal parts hilarious, heart breaking, and damned hard to watch. Veering between moments of rambunctious revelry and dark humour, to scenes fraught with gut wrenching and almost primal emotion, The Hamlet Apocalypse counters Shakespearean fiction with a catastrophic reality. Occasionally the moments match up, but more often they don’t, creating an uneasy and powerful tension between players desperately trying to keep in character as the world counts down to the end. Lamenting the children they will never have as they watch Gertrude speak with her son, confessing their love during the impassioned speech where Hamlet pushes Ophelia away, missing their cues as their performance collapses under the weight of impending doom, the production is fast paced and frenetic, the level of chaos rising as they struggle to reach the final scene. In true Shakespearean fashion, it’s a play within a play, descending into anarchy as the actors – answering to their real names – gradually lose control. Some turn to drink, others to prayer. All say their goodbyes.
For actor and audience member alike, it’s an intensely personal experience. I remember hearing audience members roaring with laughter, while I had tears streaming down my face. Others averted their eyes and took large gulps of wine, while I sat mesmerised and unable to look away. Like so many of The Danger Ensemble’s productions, The Hamlet Apocalypse asks as much of theatre-goers as it does of its performers, and setting such a harrowing individual task against a piece of theatre as well known as Hamlet is a small stroke of genius. Even if our understanding of Shakespearean language is lacking, his stories, characters and themes are known throughout the English speaking world, and it’s easy to become desensitised, and to think we know all we can. Hamlet, for all its drama and intrigue, is familiar theatrical territory. Yet here the story of the Danish prince is brought to life in a startling and (to use an appropriately religious definition of the word) awesome way. Knowing a few lines of that soliloquy (oh come on, don’t make me quote it!) isn’t enough to keep you safe. The Hamlet Apocalypse will make you feel something, and what that something is all depends on you.
Featuring stunning performances throughout, The Hamlet Apocalypse is back in Brisbane for a strictly limited season. The end is nigh (sorry!) so see it now.
Performances run until August 19th, taking place at the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts. For tickets and more information, please see The Danger Ensemble’s website.
Reviewer attended opening night on August 9th.
Photo credit: Morgan Roberts Photography