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HAMLET (article first published : 2000-04-5)

The Kwasuka Theatre production of Shakespeare’s Hamlet directed by Pieter Scholtz and running at the theatre until April 8 is a no-nonsense, business-like and fast moving presentation. No attempt has been made to use gimmickry, make the speech more contemporary or introduce multi-media dimensions. Just actors performing the purist text of this most oft-quoted of the Bard’s plays. Lines from one of the soliloquies were even used to create a number for the musical Hair - “What a piece of work is man?”

A highly dramatic dimension, however, has been included with percussionist Atlas Duma who, through the use of African drums, sticks and cymbals provides links between scenes and occasionally creates atmospheric sounds to go with the action. It’s a successful move and adds to the fast-moving pace.

John van de Ruit’s Hamlet is subdued and contemplative until the ghost of his father reveals the truth about his death and then, imbued with energy, he sets about his revenge. There were times, though, when I felt he wasn’t sufficiently familiar with the text, particularly in the all-important soliloquies.

Well-versed in the Shakespearean language and with much former experience, Patrick Collyer as a short-tempered and manipulating Claudius and Catherine Farren as a languorous Gertrude appear to strong advantage. Juan Burgers and Angela Dodds, neither of whom to my knowledge have had very much experience in Shakespearean roles, committed themselves well in sincere performances. One of Durban’s up-and-coming acting stars, Dominic Fundam proves his versatility in no less than four parts: as an outrageously dressed and be-wigged Osric, the Player King, a soldier and a messenger.

The actor who fares best in this production is Dennis Schauffer, putting in a consistently lively, garrulous and obsequious performance as Polonius. The grave digging scene is always a welcome break amid the doom and destruction of Hamlet and the performers invariably steal the show. This production is no different. Here Dennis shines as the First Gravedigger creating a good synergy and rapport with Edwin Khumalo who shows his flair for comedy as the second gravedigger. Edwin also plays Rozencrantz and Bernado.

Playing Guildenstern to Edwin’s Rozencrantz as well as a soldier and Fortinbras, Momelezi Ntshiba’s imposing height and good bearing will stand him in good stead in an acting career but he needs to improve his articulation.

Surprisingly, another articulation problem comes from Michael Gritten as Laertes. This is not a complaint I have had about this talented actor before but in this production he seems to have affected a speech technique for Laertes which produces many dynamics but the actual words themselves are often indistinct. He did, however, make an utterly delightful Player Queen.

A couple of niggles. I don’t believe that the Claudius of this production would have allowed such a camp Osric at his court. Hamlet handles a skull straight of the earth as if he does this kind of thing on a daily basis and when he kills Polonius through the arras, the speed of the dagger’s plunge and its withdrawal didn’t seem as if it had pierced human flesh and muscle. And during the fight scene at the graveside, Laertes and Hamlet looked as if they were trampling the body of Ophelia into pulp!

Hamlet is a relentless tale of death, with only one principal character remaining alive at the end out of the seven that begin the play. Pieter Scholtz has chosen to use a stark and minimal set with black drapes and rostra which are shaped like a wall of concrete garden breeze blocks. The costumes, however, designed by Jannie Engelbrecht provide strident colour with the women in contemporary styles and the men in two-piece “Nehru” suits which range from dark green to bright mustard. The gravediggers wear baggy pants and shirts with interesting pieced waistcoats.

After its run at Kwasuka, Hamlet moves to the Winston Churchill Theatre in Pietermaritzburg from April 11 to 14 at 09h00 and 13h00, before returning to Durban for an extended season at the Durban Teachers Training College in Queen Mary Avenue from April 17 to 20. Shows are at 09h00 and 13h00. All bookings at Kwasuka Theatre on (031) 309-2236.




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