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HAMLET (article first published : 2005-07-3)

How do you like your Hamlet? As a complex, articulate and dreamy student protected by his royal blood from the real world but suddenly forced to face its interchangeable currents?

As a proud prince, galvanised into action by what he perceives to be his motherís inexcusable disloyalty to his father, and using his cunning mind and whatever means at his disposal to reveal the truth?

Or as a gutsy, volatile and rebellious young man who flagrantly flouts court procedure to the extent of treason in order to seek retribution?

Short of talking to William Shakespeare directly, we canít be totally sure how he felt the character should grow, either. All we have is his text and, based on that, I rather go for the first two options. Which means I wasnít totally convinced by Janet Suzmanís direction of Hamlet which appeared on the Main programme of the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown.

Peter Cazaletís design is impressive and highly workable. Effectively aged, it has massive doors and sweeping walls, surrounding a tilted stage. I liked his ďdouble wallĒ which allowed for a towering corridor, reminding us of the dark and secret ramblings of castles like Elsinore. With Mannie Manimís well-placed lighting design, the set changes character perceptibly.

Putting in a tour de force performance as Hamlet, for which he should be congratulated, is Rajesh Gopie. The role is demanding enough played as either of the first two options mentioned above but this Hamlet is no pushover and the pace is punishing. Heís not afraid to vigorously defy his stepfather, physically attack Ophelia or threaten his mother with a sword. Rajesh handles the text passionately and with vigour at a very fast pace, giving himself no room to manoeuvre Ė either to think, change mood, or allow the audience to catch up with him. Which is good in some ways when the show is about three hours long, but a little more breathing space would have been welcome!

Dorothy Gould, dressed elegantly in velvet leopard print and furs, was a sensual and believable Gertrude. Always upright and proud, John Kani was a suitably conniving Claudius. They held the play together either as a couple or as their individual tortured characters. As did most of the audience, I liked Royston Stoffelsí dapper and fussy Polonius and Clyde Berning proves he has much power as Laertes. Roshina Ratnamís Ophelia was more childlike than fey and Marcel Meyer and Brett Goldin brought a tangible element of internal resentment to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. The role of the Gravedigger is always a cinch and Royston Stoffels made the most of it!

I truly enjoyed Adam Neillís Horatio, Hamletís trusting and loyal friend. Dressed like a rather vague maths or science professor, he shone with consistency and clarity of motive.

Janet Suzman has directed a compelling Hamlet with no let-up, swiftly flowing scenes and there is a strong emphasis on the vengeful nature of the play. However, the second half tends towards the melodramatic and the response from audience members in my immediate vicinity reflected my own in that the action had suspended reality Iím also a firm believer in making Shakespeare accessible but we still need to remain closely connected to his original creation. Ė Caroline Smart




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