Olia Kuranova reviews ‘Hamlet’, directed by Mathilde Johnsen and produced by Hannah Kate Risser and Amanda Hollinger, that went up in the Byre on April 22-24th. Perfect timing, as Shakespeare’s Birthday and Deathday is April 23rd.
Hamlet, directed by Mathilde Johnsen in the newly re-opened Byre Theatre, definitely took the audience by surprise. Johnsen’s modern-day version of the Shakespearean classic animated the minimalistic Byre stage and carried the audience through a tumultuous, but effective rendering of the narrative. The staging was managed elaborately, set changes were impressively fluid, for the most part, and though the interpretation seemed a little incongruous at times, the cast’s remarkable individual performances significantly made up for any drawbacks.
Seeing as the premise of the play is widely known, it would only be useful to note that the show’s crew did manage to considerably cut down the original script. That ended up being largely a good call on their part seeing as even with the cuts to the storyline, the play lasted well over two and a half hours. In fact, it seemed that the director worked from a standpoint that assumed the storyline would be familiar to the audience and therefore sought to underline specific character sub-plots rather than dwell on narrative. Nevertheless, there was a growing inconsistency between the scenes, especially in the first part before the intermission. This meant that a large number of the scenes seemed to drag on with very little purpose, whereas others, sometimes directly following the less lackluster episodes, were extremely well cast, blocked and orchestrated in terms of audio and tech. One such was the drowning of Ophelia (portrayed by the charmingly malleable Kate Kitchens), which had the heroine slit her wrists in a dumpster, rolled onstage in the middle of a heated conversation between Laertes and Claudius (played by AJ Brennan and Ebe Bamgboye, respectively). The stage, split in two via an eerie spotlight, was complemented by a mellow and haunting instrumental piano piece. However, the garbage dumpster was so strangely misplaced in the larger plot that even the perfectly structured technicalities couldn’t stop me from tentatively raising an eyebrow.
Not only were the setting and lighting particularly remarkable in almost every scene, the audio effects were no less outstanding. The growing insanity of Prince Hamlet (Jack Briggs) was paralleled with unnerving white noise sequences, combined with distorted spoken parts, which left us all feeling rather spooked. These effects, whilst mostly befitting to the rest of the show, meant that at times it was very hard to hear the characters, especially during lengthy monologues delivered by Briggs. Much the same happened with the play that Hamlet put on for Claudius and Gertrude: the characters (of which Alex Mackay was exceptionally hilarious) spoke directly to the sitting royalty… and so directly away from the audience. Very little of the spoken aspects of that scene actually reached the audience, but as per with this version, there was a significantly redeeming feature: the other stage blocking and character interaction in that scene was one of the best in the play itself.
On the note of characters and stage presence, Cara Mahoney and Ebe Bamgboye had a spectacular connection and their scenes were delivered in such a professional manner that it transcended the limitations of student productions. Their individual performances were equally mesmerizing. Naturally, Jack Briggs deserves monumental praise for his perceptive transformations between Hamlet Sr. and Hamlet Jr., all whilst maintaining distinct personas and tirelessly rolling around stage in his growing madness. Personally, the casting of Polonius was particularly hilarious, seeing as David Trimble added such a lightly condescending and sarcastic note to all of his interactions with Hamlet that the title-hero himself, I think, begins to take himself less seriously. Guildenstern and Rosenkrantz (Annabel Ekelund and Coco Claxton, respectively) were absolutely brilliant – their presence was energetic, their scenes were almost always the best in the entire show, and their interaction was fluid and realistic.
In essence, Hamlet was one of the most most cohesive pieces of St. Andrews student theatre in a long while now. It gave the audience a chance to re-envision a classic, helped by immaculate cast performances and technical variations. Evidently, the three years of production paid off significantly: the entire show was like a dive into the absurd, with a largely successful payoff.
Photo Credit: https://www.facebook.com/events/1587431421473708/