Hamlet (Belvoir St Theatre)

hamletVenue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Oct 12 – Dec 1, 2013
Playwright: William Shakespeare
Director: Simon Stone
Actors: Toby Schmitz, Emily Barclay, Luke Byrne, Thomas Campbell, John Gaden, Nathan Lovejoy, Robyn Nevin, Anthony Phelan, Maximilian Riebl, Greg Stone

Theatre review
Shakespeare’s tragedies are vehicles for artists to express the extremities of human emotion and inconceivable psychological torment. When created well, a staging of plays like Hamlet will allow for the most outlandish and ostentatious of acting styles. In Belvoir’s production, Toby Schmitz pushes his portrayal of Hamlet over the edge of sanity, giving us one of the year’s most memorable theatrical performances.

Taking the brave decision to remove the ambiguity of the protagonist’s insanity, director Simon Stone’s version of events presents a Hamlet that is as much about mental disorders as it is about death and betrayal. Consequently, Schmitz’s choices are liberated, and he explores states of grief and madness with great intensity and high-octane drama. It is a delicious performance and the actor is magnetically powerful, while being controlled and considered. Schmitz is as intelligent as he is artistic, and the combination is lethal.

Greg Stone plays Polonius with great flair and confidence. This is an actor who loves Shakespeare’s words and knows how to use them. His performance is a real delight. Robyn Nevin’s role is less substantial, but she delivers what we have come to expect of her. Loads of gravitas and focus, and incredible elegance.

Many liberties are taken in Stone’s work, including a very clever take on the “play within a play” scene in which Lord Hamlet’s death is re-enacted, and some of the best use of incidental music in a long while. Stone displays not just originality and ingenuity, but also a keen sense of playfulness. His Hamlet is surprising, intriguing and taut. It runs slightly over two hours, and every moment is imbued with wonder and tension. This is exhilarating theatre. Stone’s show has a dangerous flirtation with abstraction which adds to its intrigue and seductive quality, but unfortunately becomes overwhelming in the final scenes. The play closes strongly but the journey at the end is slightly rocky. Nevertheless, this slightly abridged Hamlet is a courageous and accomplished work, one that showcases some of the best theatre practitioners and their dedication to, and faith in the art form.