Lynne Lancaster

SEYMOUR CENTRE: Sport for Jove Theatre Company explode onto the stage with a fresh, fast-paced and vibrant production – it is almost as if we have never seen this classic play before.
Sport for Jove Theatre Company have exploded onto the Seymour Centre stage with a fabulous, fast-paced production that is fresh and vibrant – it is almost as if we have never seen this classic play before.

This is an abridged (just under two hours), modernised version of the famous play that includes the use of computers, mobile phones and electronic ‘bugs’, and is set in a world where the whole court is being watched and monitored. An intense and moving production, it features excellent acting by all the cast, with some doubling/tripling of roles, modern dress, and only a few major props (e.g. the large dining table, the huge portable travelling wagon/stage of the Players etc). The set is also sparse, its most important element being the circular, tessellated wooden floor that acts as the focus of and carries the story of the play. Scene changes are smooth, almost cinematic.

Lindsay Farris as our lithe, dashing and dark Hamlet is magnificent. He plays Hamlet as if the character was already slightly mad from the very start of the play. Most of the time we get the feeling that his madness is an assumed facade (as indicated by his use of whiteface makeup in the ‘Mousetrap’ play scene, for example) – but is it? He is angry and petulant, especially early on, and plays the melancholy Danish prince as very intelligent and bent on revenge once he learns the truth from his father’s ghost.

Farris delivers the famous speeches beautifully, as if they were newly minted, clambering onto the table to remind us that his father wasn’t dead two months before Gertrude married Hamlet’s uncle, Claudius. He is aloof yet well loved by his university friends. We get the feeling that yes, Hamlet really does love Ophelia – his unexpected explosive “I don’t love you – retire to a convent” speech is an attempt to save her from the disastrous events just about to hit the court.

In the ‘Mousetrap’/’Murder of Gonzago’ play within a play scene his Hamlet somehow manages to control and manipulate everything. Gertrude and Claudius in this scene are at first in good humour, and get dragged on to be Player King and Queen – but all goes wrong.

James Lugton is a dark, bearded Claudius; a smooth operator with a charming, Machiavellian facade beneath which evil bubbles. Gertrude (Danielle King) and Claudius are portrayed as madly in love, a pair who can hardly keep their hands off each other. Yet when the situation requires she is the cool, efficient, elegant Queen. It was interesting to observe that here it is Gertrude who cleans the mirror of Polonius’ blood when he is murdered , rather than having a maid or suchlike do the task.

Ophelia, a good daughter, loving sister and refined young lady of the court is played by Eloise Winestock. Her mad scene(s) are harrowing. Young, blonde and beautiful, she has a hidden strength yet fragile vulnerability – it is easy to understand how she snaps and crumbles upon her father’s death .

Blonde, handsome Laertes is energetically portrayed by Christopher Stalley (who also, somewhat confusingly, plays Rosencrantz). Youthful and exuberant, his world is shattered and he is drawn into Claudius’ devilish machinations. The fencing duel between Laertes and Hamlet at the play’s climax is thrilling and dangerous. It starts off formal and light but descends to messy viciousness.

Polonius is brilliantly played by John Turnbull as a devious political manipulator; the power behind the throne rather than the usual buffoon. The ‘arras’ he hides behind in this production is a mirror – his murder a blackout and gunshot.

The Ghost of Hamlet’s father was played by Christopher Tomkinson, and given an eerie, chilling entrance. He is at first all tied up – with a long rope that is used to great effect when struggling Prince Hamlet says he’ll follow. The scene between father and son is beautifully, intimately played. Tomkinson also makes a delightful First Player, every inch the ‘leading man’. As the grave digger for Ophelia’s funeral he is dressed in overalls and gloves and delivers the ironically witty and difficult banter terrifically .

Takaya Honda played Horatio, Hamlet’s best friend and confidante. Small in stature, he is giant of heart, attempting to do what is right and protect Hamlet rather than succumb to the corrupt miasma of the court.

Toby Knyvett’s wonderful lighting ranges from eerie and spooky to starkly dramatic and is most eloquent and effective. There is also fascinating use of under or side lighting. For some of the famous monologues the houselights go up and Hamlet speaks directly to the audience, commenting on the action and drawing us in.

A gripping, thrilling and contemporary version of a tale of power, politics, madness and corruption that had the audience of mostly young high school students enthralled.

Rating: 4 stars out of 5

Sport For Jove Theatre Company present
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Damien Ryan
Set Design: Lucilla Smith
Costume Design: Anna Gardiner
Lighting Design: Toby Knyvett
Sound Design: Caitlin Porter
Set Construction: Nick Catran
Fight Director: Scott Witt
Cast: Lindsay Farris, Danielle King, James Lugton, Eloise Winestock, Takaya Honda, John Turnbull, Christopher Tomkinson, Christopher Stalley and George Banders

Seymour Centre, Sydney
June 15 – 29

About the author

Lynne Lancaster is a Sydney based arts writer who has previously worked for Ticketek, Tickemaster and the Sydney Theatre Company. She has an MA in Theatre from UNSW, and when living in the UK completed the dance criticism course at Sadlers Wells, linked in with Chichester University.