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HAMLET (article first published : 2000-08-2)

The opening scene is set in the control room of a commercial or industrial type of operation where security guard Marcellus played by Neels Boshoff keeps watch on a bank of monitors. Share prices are listed on the screens hanging above the set signifying money and power. Suddenly there is interference and the ghost of Hamletís father (played with dignity by a greyed Themi Venturas) replaces the images on the monitors.

This is the kind of challenging contemporary treatment given by director Peter Court to the Themi Venturas Productionsí Hamlet running at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre until August 12.

Durban born and educated, Steven Stead (Hamlet) has lived overseas for several years. Always talented, he has benefited enormously from his exposure to top class international theatre. He puts in an excellent performance throughout. Intelligent and careful of Shakespeareís text, his Hamlet is energetic and vigorous. He plays him with a nice coiled energy bursting forth with strong flashes of humour or sudden self-deprecation. He will no doubt make Shakespeareís convoluted language more accessible to the school audiences studying the play as a set work. His final moments represented the most convincing death scene of Hamlet Iíve seen to date.

Keseran Pillay is suitably fussy, obsequious and garrulous as Polonius, the father of Laertes (Peter Court) and a highly-fashionable Ophelia (Belinda Henwood). It was a nice move for Ophelia to wear her fatherís jacket in her mad scene, making her loss all the more poignant.

As Horatio, director Peter Court chose to cast a female (a sympathetic Krijay Govender) contending that with the threat of AIDS more young people tend to form platonic heterosexual relationships of a lasting kind. The same applies to the choice of Monique Hebrard as Rosencrantz who we are to assume has the same kind of friendship with Guildernstern (Greig Pilkington). I canít say I was convinced with these devices as the text so plainly places the characters as male.

Both tall and imposing performers Mari Visagie and Angus Douglas play Gertrude and Claudius who are attended with much pomp and ceremony by security guards in dark glasses (including Olivea Boshoff, Shanthan and Collin Nhlumayo). Unfortunately inaudible at times, as was Belinda Henwood, Mariís Gertrude was elegant and cool. I wasnít happy with the scene in which Hamlet attacks Gertrude viciously, particularly in the light of his repentance and their subsequent mother-son intimacy. While Angus lacks the maturity and vocal weight for Claudius, he gave a restrained and controlled performance.

The grave scene is always a welcome distraction in the midst of all that gloom and doom and Keseran Pillay and Colin Nxumalo were allowed to make good use of their comedic talents.

Director Peter Court created a dual-purpose set which had to work for Themiís other production, The Guitar the Rocked the World which has just completed its run in the Sneddon, as well as for Hamlet. Itís a good construction, offering different levels and interesting sections such as a tunnel in which Claudius and Polonius may hide to observe Ophelia and provides suitable height to set the grave diggers seemingly well below ground level.

This is an up-to-date and thought-provoking production of one of Shakespeareís great tragedies. Itís well worth a visit. Performances take place Tuesday to Friday at 09h00 and 11h00 and on Saturdays at 14h00 and 18h00. Tickets R38 (R19 students) through Sharon on 083 292-5324.




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