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HAMLET (article first published : 2008-02-17; last edited : [an error occurred while processing this directive])

The last couple of times we have a seen schools production of Shakespeare’s Hamlet in Durban they have been held in the Playhouse Opera – a splendid theatre but a vast and unforgiving space for the unamplified human speaking voice.

This time round, Shakespeare’s best-known and most-quoted tragedy is running in the Playhouse Drama, my favourite venue, which is acoustically designed (as its name implies) for dramatic speech.

An audience of young people sitting for over an hour and a half will naturally get fidgety and one of the best ways to keep them riveted is to control them with vocal power. At the performance I attended, the only time the cast lost the audience’s attention was when their voices became too internalised and insufficiently projected. I’m delighted to say that this wasn’t very often.

This Hamlet is directed by Clare Mortimer, assisted by Carol Trench and is presented by Think Theatre Promotions in association with The Playhouse Company. Bryan Hiles and Clare Mortimer have produced a simple yet highly effective set with moss-stained steps, broken statues and structures giving a feeling of a once-noble regime falling into decay. The lighting is good and, mercifully, we aren’t subjected to vast clouds of smoke!

In the title role, Iain Robinson puts in an excellent performance. Is this Hamlet mad? I doubt it. This prince of Denmark is clear-minded, alert, roguish and pragmatic – although prone to impetuous deeds which results in his murdering Polonius. He gives us to understand that the knowledge of his father’s murder stresses him considerably but he broods and plots revenge with Machiavellian calculation.

Perhaps more widely known as hip-hop poet Ewok, Iain manages to introduce this modern feel into Shakespeare’s test without destroying the Bard’s rhythm. His soliloquies were intelligently presented without guile or artifice and there were some good scenes with Ophelia. His interaction with Polonius generates much amusement while there was a good companionable rapport with Horatio, Hamlet’s one true friend, who is sympathetically and well played by Clinton Small.

I understand that Iain had been taken ill earlier in the week. All I can say is, if the performance I saw was produced when he was feeling under par, then I’m extremely impressed!

Clare Mortimer, who is also a regal Gertrude, has assembled a strong cast with no weak links and I can see the result of both her and Carol Trench’s attention to detail. The actors completely understand the text and performances bounce off each other in a natural and credible way.

Playing a number of roles were Adam Doré, Rowan Bartlett and Loyiso MacDonald. All too often the budget for a production this size does not allow for a large cast and supporting actors have to double. It is to their credit that they contribute as much artistic integrity to the production as do the lead roles.

Michael Gritten is a suitably pompous guilt-ridden Claudius and Darren King keeps the fussy Polonius nicely under control without caricaturing him. Karen Logan is a charming and vulnerable Ophelia with Dylan Edy a fiery Laertes bursting for revenge. Sean de Klerk and Marc Kay are good foils for each other as Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern, Hamlet’s one-time friends turned informers.

The costumes are chosen sensibly for a schools production where the clothes take a bit of hammering with two performances a day. I particularly liked Gertrude’s smart, tailored outfit and Ophelia’s ethereal and wispy look.

Schools performances of Hamlet are at 09h00 and 12h00 Mondays to Fridays from February 4 to March 7, except for February 7 and 29 when schools performances are at 12h00 only, with public evening performances at 19h00.

The production forms part of the Playhouse Company’s 2008 Schools season, and is staged as an aid to learners in KZN schools who are studying the play as a matric setwork. Booking through Computicket on 083 915 8000. Ticket prices range from R35 to R50. School bookings can also be made through Margie Coppen on 083 251 9412. – Caroline Smart




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