ArtSpoken & Reviews

Hamlet shines in simple setting

Jennifer de Klerk
05/08/2017 10:46:32

Jennifer de Klerk: The play’s the thing, and in this innovative version of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the language reigns supreme.

I have seen many productions of this powerful play, both on film and on stage, presented with very different approaches, from traditional, to African, to modern day. The themes, as generations will attest, are universal.

Ultimately, although one is touched by the emotional torment and drama, it is the Bard’s language that is everlasting. During this production, which focusses on the words, rather than stage techniques, I realised anew how many phrases and images are so much part of our thinking that we use them constantly, unaware of their origin.

The days of a full-scale Hamlet production are probably over, except for extremely well-funded and focussed organisations, but this company proves that the essence of the play can be conveyed very simply.

In 1608, when William Shakespeare was still writing, Hamlet was staged at sea by the crew of the ship Red Dragon, an exercise encouraged by the captain to keep the men occupied and boredom at bay. Assuredly they would have had little in the way of props and costumes – also they would have had no girls – but then Shakespeare didn’t either.

I doubt though that the original cast were as versatile and talented as these six actors in moving surely and effectively through various roles, from major to minor, to bring the play to life.

An introduction adapted from the play within the play in Midsummer’s Night Dream, during which the seamen are assigned their roles, sets the scene and the play begins.

The set is simple and ingenious, a draping of plastic to give the idea of sails and obscure a backstage/wings area, complemented by the creaking of timbers and sounds of the sea. Three sea chests provide seating and occasional props.

The most outstanding feature is the moat of water around the stage, isolating the action – on the ship alone in the ocean, in the prison that Elsinore has become, in the confines of Hamlet’s mind – you can delve into the symbolism to your heart’s content. Dramatically the water is used evocatively; I have seldom been so touched by Ophelia’s madness.

Strangely enough, using young men to play Gertrude and Ophelia works in the setting. Although neither are beautiful enough to match their descriptions (to put it mildly), they achieve dignity and succeed in conveying the emotions they need to convey.

Another innovative and highly effective twist is the pairing of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, a surreal addition to an increasingly nightmare scenario and here too the water plays a role.

Marcel Meyer is a strong Hamlet, Dean Balie outstanding as both Horatio and the annoyingly loquacious Polonius and Michael Richard commanding as King Claudius.

It is a long play, just short of three hours with interval, but it does not feel that long. Give the Bard an outlet to shine, and this evergreen play does just that.
William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, directed by Fred Abrahamse with Meyer Productions runs at Pieter Toerien’s Theatre at Montecasino until May 21.

Jennifer de Klerk is editor of
Related Venue:
Montecasino Complex, Fourways Johannesburg Gauteng South Africa