Honk if you’re Hamlet: Belvoir’s Hamlet

It’s surely the most well-known play in the English language. If not in its entirety then from its conglomeration of famous lines. By its very nature, Hamlet needs no introduction – as a play or as a character – yet each successive staging seems to require a justification, an explanation of its resonances and relevance. Virginia Woolf once said that “to write down one’s impressions of Hamlet as one reads it year after year would be virtually to record one’s own autobiography, for as we know more of life, so Shakespeare comments on what we know.” Perhaps taking a leaf from Woolf’s sentiments, director Simon Stone has fashioned a compelling new interpretation of Shakespeare’s play, and turns it into a chamber piece for eight actors, a pianist and a singer.
Belvoir’s Hamlet, as with all of Stone’s production, is set upon a plane of dark and light, black and white. Costumed by Mel Page in variations on formal attire, these inhabitants of Stone’s Elsinore seem to inhabit the background of each others’ scenes, giving the play an oddly disconcerting and ghostly presence, which it of course already has, but Stone’s staging concept amplifies it.


Crossing the line: Griffin’s The Floating World

Written in 1974, and first performed at Melbourne’s Pram Factory theatre, John Romeril’s The Floating World has become something of an Australian classic. Very much concerned with the devastating effects of war and trauma upon individuals and societies long after the event has passed, The Floating World seems almost prescient in its relevance, nearly forty years later. Set on board the 1974 Women’s Weekly Cherry Blossom tour ship, itself a converted troop ship, Romeril’s The Floating World is the story of Les Harding’s decline and fall from grace. “An electrifying descent into one man’s wartime nightmare,” it is a discomforting and harrowing story as we follow Les’ journey towards Japan, and we watch, sometimes in horror, as his grip on reality soon falls away.
Directed by Sam Strong, it is a robust and startlingly contemporary story, one that still shocks, confronts and unnerves, forty years on. This is in no way a bad thing. If anything, it is all the more alarming, to see how little we have changed in many respects, despite convincing ourselves otherwise. Attracted to its unruliness and its determination to not stay on the page in a neat and civilised manner, Strong describes how Romeril’s script is a rampage through many wildly different narrative modes (comedy, satire, irony, political drama), along the way violating several ‘rules’ of theatrical storytelling: a second act which is longer than the first, and ending with a twenty-minute monologue. But it is perhaps because of this unruliness, because of this determination to not stay in one fixed place, that The Floating World is still as successful as it has been.


No holds Bard: STC’s Romeo and Juliet

Alongside A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet is surely one of Shakespeare’s most well-known plays. Yet out of this gross familiarity comes a complacency borne of contempt and over-saturation of two lovers drawn from feuding families, whose “misadventured piteous overthrows / do with their death bury their parents’ strife.” Enter, then, Kip Williams, with his production of Romeo and Juliet for Sydney Theatre Company. Tired of the age-old story of two warring households, Williams has (boldly) shrunk the scale of the play’s cast and scope to a mere ten players, focusing the story on Capulet, his expectations for his daughter Juliet, and her own conflicting choices and desires; how much of a toxic mix this is, then as now.
It’s a bold move, and one that may very well set a cat among the pigeons, just as Tybalt explodes amongst Romeo and his friends in the town square. Struck by the “underlying similarities” between houses Capulet and Montague, Williams’ production gives us our own world back at us, a world where “vacuous narcissism” and “old money” is “steeped in unquestioned tradition.” A world where “violence is born of boredom, habit, alcoholism and ego.” In doing so, he loses none of the play’s lyricism and intoxicating poetry; in fact, his staging only serves to heighten it, and by the end – almost three hours later – I dare you not to be left speechless in your seat, the full weight of this spectacular, crisp, sharp production like Tybalt’s knife in your gut.