Review: Hamlet (Montague Basement)

montaguebasementVenue: PACT Centre for Emerging Artists (Erskineville NSW), Dec 1 – 5, 2015
Playwright: William Shakespeare
Director: Saro Lusty-Cavallari
Cast: Zach Beavon-Collin, Robert Boddington, Christian Byers, Lulu Howes, Patrick Morrow
Image by Zaina Ahmed

Theatre review
If Hamlet lives today, his claims about seeing the ghost of his recently deceased father would probably not be taken very seriously at all. In Saro Lusty-Cavallari’s adaptation, the Prince of Denmark deals with his bereavement by locking himself away with Disney films, and spends too much time online. We also only ever see the apparition in Hamlet’s presence (through television sets), which allows us to bring his sanity to question. This version of Hamlet explores youth and its detachment from reality, especially in the context of modern technology. It is about isolation, delusion, and that sense of entitlement often attributed to the privileged lives of children born in the economic boom of late twentieth century.

Lusty-Cavallari’s vision is focused and powerful. Substantial omissions are made to serve his reinterpretation, but his choices are interesting and thoughtful ones that challenge our preconceived notions about the text, and urges us to look with fresh eyes. We are made to consider if this Hamlet presents the same man in a different light, or whether this rendition is indeed an entirely different character from the one we had known. Performances do not always live up to the demands of Shakespeare’s writing, but Christian Byers brings good tension and drama with the title role, even if there is little variation in his approach to the prince’s temperament or gesticulations. Supporting player Patrick Morrow leaves a strong impression as Polonius, with effortless charm and a natural pace that help him stand out on a stage that does not shy away from outlandish theatrics.

Set design is beautifully executed, with components of media and technology strewn across the space, representing Hamlet’s room, and illustrating the disposable nature of our contemporary lives. “To be or not to be” almost becomes a flippant statement for a generation that struggles to find meaning, but the team in this production of Hamlet is determined to locate, in Shakespeare, relevance and resonance for themselves, and subversion it seems, is the only way.

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