The full text of Shakespeares Hamlet can last around four and a half hours and includes a myriad of diverse characters, so for a cast of 11 to take on the play is a feat in itself.
A program note from director Brenda White says the cast and crew have dubbed their version “The Pocket Hamlet” due to its small production values. Most of the actors have multiple roles with Ralph Porter deserving recognition for his five-role workload including the gravedigger which, although small, is a stand-out performance.
Rhys Wards Hamlet is emotionally raw and unabashed he throws himself about the stage in complete despair and his looks of contempt at Claudius were enough to almost pull me on-stage to kill the usurper.
Brenda White does not limit the action to the stage, utilising the entire space given to her including the courtyard outside to signal the incoming acting troupe. Enlarging the space in this way surrounds the audience with the action and creates a larger atmosphere for the characters to inhabit.
Some amateur mistakes plagued the play such as John Ashton (Claudius) coming on stage with his glasses still on and keeping them on for some time and some of the audience reactions were puzzling especially the laughter at the death of Polonius (David Bentley).
I have never felt comfortable with Polonius line, “I am slain”, because it has never sounded natural. The fact is if I had a sword thrust into me I would more likely swear and curse until my murderer went deaf. Perhaps it was Bentleys quick delivery that drove the audience into hysterics but I think it would be best to get rid of the line and replace it with some sort of guttural utterance.
Despite these downsides there are impressive performances from Carmen Travino as Ophelia and the five-role Ralph Porter. Travino embodies her character so well that at times she steals the stage from Wards Hamlet. Her sane Ophelia is coy, servile and fearful but after her father dies and her sanity is lost her entire countenance changes. Her speech becomes high pitched and her movements erratic. Costume and make-up departments helped to perfect this transformation while Travinos acting created a truly fearful and eerie lunatic.
The use of steel swords during the final sword fight was incredibly brave, as well as moving the action in and out of the audience. At one point sparks were literally flying off the blades, adding to the drama and suspense that is often lost.
Minor slip-ups aside, this Hamlet gives Brisbane audiences the opportunity to see some truly excellent performances.