Spring Hill Reservoirs
October 7 – 21
At 4000 lines, “The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark” is Shakespeare’s longest and most demanding play. So to have audiences in effect stand for its 2.5 hour duration is asking a lot. Luckily the location of heartBeast’s latest work provides numerous nooks and crannies to add interest in support of its staging, initially at least.
With the world at war, underground, the monarchy of D-Mark faces its final desperate days. In their bunker, audiences come face-to-face with the characters of Shakespeare’s story as they follow its action through the gothic spaces of the Spring Hill Reservoir. It is an engaging premise, organically immersive in the way that characters perform amongst an audience that moves with them between the historic underground chambers to witness each scene and eventually travel full circle back to where it all began, only this time shaded with the silence of a slain protagonist, and others. More than voyeurism, the premise allows audience members to control the level of intimacy, choosing as they may to perch up-close upon the various stools and crates scattered about the space or stand back to observe not just the main action but the other character interactions continuing in the backgrounds.
Ambiance arises from the unique and sometimes shadowy surroundings of the almost 150 year old venue, unused for 50 years until 2014. The reservoir’s acoustics suit, for example, Prince Hamlet’s (David Paterson) shouty Act One angry damnation of his mother Gertrude (Adrienne Costello), who has married his uncle Claudius (Patrick Farrelly) within a month of his father’s death and allow for an effective ghostly intervention from the slain King courtesy of an effective acoustics and lighting mix.
Eerie lighting and reverberating sounds suit its futuristic dystopian setting, made clear from Jaqueline Kerr’s punk-inspired Mad Maxish garbage bag costumes. Although Paul Young’s sound design adds tension, unfortunately the soundscape sometimes competes with the language and action on stage, such as in Hamlet’s ‘to be or not be’ soliloquy contemplation of death and suicide, which in interesting in its delivery as he lies upon the floor.
All cast members do a decent job in this physical work. Every Hamlet has a different truth and Paterson’s Hamlet is brattish rather than bitter from the beginning… hardly likeable and eliciting little audience empathy. In contrast to his self-proclaimed teenage misery, his over-the-top enactment of his intent to act ‘strange or odd’ in feign of madness in order to confuse and disconcert those around him, is more droll than determined, contrasting with Jane Schon’s bewitching Ophelia, especially in response to being ordered to a nunnery by her then misogynistic potential husband.
Farrelly brings a particular presence as antagonist Claudious, playing him less as conscientious politician and more as passionate man fed up with his nephew, now step-son’s corruption of his newly-created world, at times consuming the space with his reverberating vocals. And James Trigg is a determined Laertes, showing impressive stagecraft in his final avenge of the deaths of his father and sister.
To some degree, any “Hamlet” can be a dangerous undertaking. While, ambitious, this one seems to be a wasted opportunity to bring a traditional Elsinore Castle to life in the aesthetically accommodating surroundings of the Spring Hill Reservoir space. Rather than being absorbed by the skilful language in shape of the story’s reality, audiences can easily be distracted by the unnecessary dystopian devices that see, for example, weapons alternating between modern firearms and those of traditional swordplay. Still, the spirit and energy of the piece are enough to win over many with its up close and personal presentation of this new take on Hamlet’s world.