Hamlet is perhaps the most famous play in English literature and is one of the most quoted Shakespeare works. Simon Stone is the wunderkind of the Sydney theatre scene, thrilling theatregoers with his reinventions of classic theatre pieces including Death Of A Salesman and The Wild Duck. Belvoir Theatre Company’s current production of Hamlet presents a unique opportunity to see the distinctive worlds of Shakespeare and Stone collide.
Boldly cutting the four-hour script by half and consequently consolidating some of plays most famous lines, Stone makes the work more accessible to a modern audience. However this is a slippery slope and in some instances the production is the worse for it.
Toby Schmitz’s Hamlet is insane from the moment he steps on stage. There is no indication that he’s merely acting mad in the pursuit of justice for his murdered father. As such, Schmitz leaves himself little room to move in terms of building audience sympathy.
The play’s final crescendo is also somewhat muted. The gripping snowball effect of death after death, deception after deception, betrayal after betrayal is summarised in a way that those unfamiliar with the text may miss the intricacies of this explosive scene.
Nonetheless Schmitz’s performance is passionate and precise while the remainder of the cast are exceptional. Greg Stone’s Polonius is the standout and, although he may have the most famous lines, he presents the saturated Shakespearian language in a delightfully contemporary manner.
Stone’s distinctively minimalist staging is also one of the production’s strong points. The black and white colour scheme with highlights of red adds to the drama. So too the musical accompaniment of sparse piano and vocal solos further emphasise the play’s austerity.
Although Stone’s effort is not without it’s shortcomings, he remains a pioneer on the edges of a new theatrical frontier and I can’t wait to see what he does next.
BY LEE HUTCHISON