I love going to Theatre 3. There is magic in the place. I don't care that the decor is old and tired, I only ever notice it for a moment, because before long you feel the atmosphere of genuine theatre lovers mingling and engaging, like Liberals in the Press Club or bikies in a pub. This was what it was like at Theatre 3 last night, especially straight after the curtain went down on the opening performance of I Hate Hamlet.
The plot revolves around Andrew, a successful television soap actor from Los Angeles, who relocates to New York after having agreed to play Hamlet in a non-profit production in Central Park. Problems arise when he reveals that he hates Hamlet, and mainly agreed to play the role because of his girlfriend's love for the play. Fortuitously, the ghost of the late, great actor Barrymore, who once occupied Andrew's gothic apartment and played Hamlet, can return to mentor Andrew through the process of preparing for the most important role of his life.
A couple of the people I spoke to afterwards expressed the same surprise I had; why had I not heard of this play? It was written way back in 1991, and is such an astute and passionate exploration of our attitudes towards Shakespeare that it shocks me to think that it isn't part of the curriculum of every university's theatre department. It looks quite deeply into the psyche of the greatest play of all time while still retaining a modern view that is unencumbered by social expectations about how we should view the bard. In short, it is respectful without being reverential. It treats the way society hallows Shakespeare with ridicule, while still holding a deep and profound respect for the man's humanity, wisdom and power.
When I first started my academic career—after dropping out of high school and bumming around dead end jobs for a few years—one of the first pieces of literature from the English Canon that I encountered was Hamlet. I struggled with it, and came to some kind of understanding of it, rudimentary as it was. Over the years my love for the play has deepened. In the twelve years since first reading it I have seen more than ten stage productions and every film I could clap my eyes on, and I have never been disappointed by modern theatre practitioners' capacity to glean some new kernel of wisdom from the pages. Just like Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, I Hate Hamlet further unpacks Shakespeare's story, treating it as a living, breathing work of art rather than a museum piece.
Canberra Repertory's production is simply brilliant, with the considerable talents and experience of Ian Croker in the role of Barrymore admirably matched by my old university classmate Glenn Brown as Andrew. Their swordfight was so much fun that I found found it difficult to resist the urge to get up and join in! The entire cast carries off the production brilliantly, with excellent comic timing (perhaps with a couple of hiccups that I am putting down to opening night), brilliant wit, and impeccable characterisation.
Now all I need is a show I can audition for with a sword fight...
"It is not the critic who counts. Not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause."
21 February 2009
04 February 2009
It could almost be said that In Cold Light deals lightly with an issue of severe gravity. It could be said, if the play did not take itself so seriously.
Jarrad West gives a credible performance of the lead role, Christian Lamori; a Catholic priest summoned for questioning by a seemingly guileless inspector. With this character, writer Duncan Ley has deftly woven elements of a stereotype with the intensity of a tormented soul. This is mostly successful, but I felt that the use of an English accent for these characters lent the production a sense of remoteness that hindered my capacity to empathise.
Nonetheless, the play is a brilliant exploration of an aspect of humanity that we generally either avoid telling stories about or explore with very little depth. And the twist at the end is pure gold.