Estelle Sinkins reviews Think Theatre Company’s production of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, which is being staged in Johannesburg and Pretoria in May.
SHAKESPEARE’S Hamlet is one of the most performed of his works, with the titular role having been played by everyone from Richard Burton, John Gielgud and Laurence Olivier to Kenneth Branagh, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Wishaw, David Tennant and Benedict Cumberbatch.
It’s a complex role, which demands an actor shows everything from rage to grief, but at the same time to hide those feelings from those closest to him. It’s all too easy for Hamlet to come across as sulky and truclulent and it takes a sensitive actor to evade the trap.
Multi-award-winning actor, Bryan Hiles, may have had to have his arm twisted by director, Clare Mortimer, to take on the iconic role, but his performance is spot on and finely nuanced.
His Hamlet is clearly an emotional young man, who is battling with his love for Ophelia (Cara Roberts), his grief for his father, and his deep anger at his mother, Gertrude’s (Mortimer) over-hasty trip down the aisle with his uncle, Claudius (Michael Gritten).
Hiles has the rare ability to draw an audience’s sympathy and understanding and from the moment he delivers his character’s first soliloquy we get to see that his Prince of Denmark is not a firebrand, but is instead a reflective young man.
Hiles also deftly handles the famous ‘to be, or not to be’ speech, showing us his character’s emotional state and internal conflict about taking revenge and defending what he believes to be the right thing.
Mortimer shows again what a fine dramatic actress she is in her portrayal of Hamlet’s mother Gertrude, a woman who has seemingly put sexual desire ahead of love and loyalty.
Gritten, meanwhile, was, I thought, fantastic as the devious Claudius. At first triumphant and smug, he soon realises that his new crown is not secure upon his head. It’s fascinating to watch the actor show Claudius’ desperate attempts to keep his power, and his almost pragmatic coldness as he plots to murder his stepson.
Cara Roberts shines as Ophelia. At first delighted by Hamlet’s attentions, she becomes concerned that her rejection of him – prompted by her father, Polonius (Darren King) – has made him mad. It is, however, her portrayal of Ophelia’s grief and the effect it has on her that remains in the mind. It’s easy for an actress to go overboard when playing this role, but Roberts is restrained. As a result Ophelia’s emotional fragility resonates and makes her eventual death even sadder.
Marc Kay, as her brother Laertes, is fiery and when he takes on Hamlet in the fight scene, his anger makes the encounter extremely realistic. Nhlakanipho Manqele shows a quiet gravitas in his portrayal of Hamlet’s friend, Horatio, and his final scene was deeply poignant and moving.
Mortimer, who has given her staging a contemporary feel by dressing the cast in familiar clothing, also draws on the comedic strengths of Darren King as Polonius and Rowan Bartlett to bring in plenty of humour. Bartlett is especially deserving of praise. He is by turns a travelling actor, a priest, a grave digger and the courtier, Osric, all of whom are beautifully realised.
They are supported by newcomers, Chris van Rensburg and Mpilo ‘Straw’ Nzimande, as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and Kirsty Ndawo, who helps deliver the ‘play within the play’, which makes use of shadow puppetry. A clever and modern edition which school pupils will enjoy.
Hamlet is rightly considered to be the Bard’s greatest work, and Think Theatre deliver a play which deftly explores the themes of death, betrayal, greed, murder and revenge.
It also asks the audience searching questions, including: Does a good and purposeful life on earth triumph? Are vile and criminal acts always punished? And, what is the purpose of our lives if decency has the same end as treachery?
Think Theatre’s production of Hamlet is quite simply a must-see for pupils studying the play as a setwork. So, if your child’s school has not yet booked seats, encourage them to do so. Your children will thank you.
- Supported by the University of Johannesburg, Think Theatre’s Hamlet and Othello will be staged at the University of Johannesburg until 19 May, and at the Brooklyn Theatre in Pretoria from 22 to 26 May. Outreach performances are planned at Pretoria University from 29 May to 31 May. School shows are at 9am and 12pm daily. Public evening show: 7pm on May 16.
- For further information contact Doreen on 084 556 0668 or Margie on 083 251 9412.
- Follow Hamlet and Othello on Facebook, and keep up to date with production news at #ThinkTheatreHamlet and #ThinkTheatreOthello on Facebook and Twitter.