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HAMLET (article first published : 2007-02-23)

Presented by the Actors Co-Operative, Shakespeare’s time-honoured Hamlet is running in the Playhouse Opera until the end of March. Directed by Garth Anderson and Clare Mortimer, it is designed for school audiences but there are a few public performances.

Jacobus van Heerden is a pragmatic and hands-on Hamlet. This is a highly demanding role and he has thought the role through, handling it confidently and with much energy. Clare Mortimer is a cool, sophisticated Gertrude and Thomie Holtzhausen is a manipulative and volatile Claudius. It was good to see Wallace McDougall back on the local theatre scene as Polonius with Danielle Perlman presenting a poignant Ophelia. The surprise of the evening for me was Sean de Klerk who gave a sincere and passionate performance as Laertes – nice to see this young man moving into the spotlight.

Marc Kay was a commanding Horatio with Adam Dore (also an amusing Gravedigger) and Clinton Small handling well the roles of Rozencrantz and Guildenstern. Playing a number of roles were Rory Booth, Brett Kyle, Ben Bruzas and Brian Hyles.

Actors Co-Operative is to be commended for the work they do in presenting Shakespeare’s plays in an accessible manner to young learners who may be battling to cope with the over 400-year old Shakespearean language. The theatre company last presented Hamlet in 2003 with Neil Coppen in the title role. Since then, they have done Othello (2004), Macbeth (2005) and King Lear (2006).

One of the problems I had with the current Hamlet is that it follows too much the same kind of formula as the last few productions. Garth Anderson often opts for a stark set with little or no props and, while this is dramatic, one longs for different levels, movements other than great strides across the stage to place the actors in position quickly, and some visual effects other than the lighting.

The Opera stage is way too vast for the un-amplified human voice and drawbacks of this production are occasional inaudibility as well as lack of strong articulation or too rapid speech. This is a problem that was also prevalent in Macbeth and King Lear. Some help in the form of sounding boards from flats or backdrops or even a screen on which to play complementary images would be of great assistance here.

Mention must be made of Dylan Heaton’s lighting design. With the added input of what must be the Playhouse Company’s entire stock of smoke machines, he has taken advantage of the massive space he has available to him. He effectively incorporates the colour purple, reminding us that we are at the court of the King of Denmark.

Hamlet is a beautifully written play with multilayered moods incorporating power games, machinations, sensitivity and despair. This production lacked many subtleties and nuances but I have worked enough in front of school audiences to know that you need to grab their attention and keep it. The production needs to be energy driven from start to finish.

Tonight’s audience consisted mainly of learners and I watched their response keenly. They remained riveted and gave thunderous applause at the end. So, if this Hamlet has helped them understand Shakespeare’s most oft-quoted work better, then directors and cast have done their job.

There will be school performances until the end of March with a further public performance on March 9 at 19h00. More information from Actors Co-Operative on 084 422 1422. – Caroline Smart




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