This is definitely a ‘bare-bones’ production - with little in the way of set and virtually no tech, this is Shakespeare heading back to its roots. What little set and props are used are done so sparingly yet successfully. The curtain spread along the back of the stage provides all that is needed, functioning as wings, a backstage space, and of course the handy arras needed in a play frequented by spying and surveillance. The conventions are plain and simple - characters close a scene by exiting one side, whilst actors enter on the other to begin the next scene. It keeps the piece swift, clean, and above all, comprehensible. However don’t mistake the simplicity for lack of imagination - there is a nod to the classic discovery space, a la the original Globe Theatre, used to delightfully comedic effect.
Of course, this bare-bones approach draws greater focus to the actors. There is no room to hide here, no tricks of the light nor sound design to aid the actors in their performance. This brave and talented cast don’t need any help. All performances were mind-blowing. The cast - comprising of Deborah Eve Rea, Ania Upstil, Alida Steemson, Sabrina Martin, Catriona Tipene, Iris Henderson, Katie Boyle, and Pippiajna Jane, deftly juggle multiple roles. Each is imbibed with a strong individual flavour (Jane’s flamboyant Osric jumps to mind), whilst their ensemble work has a strength to the point of feeling instinctive. Every actor handles the verse naturally, and finds a sincerity in their performances that, by the second act, has me desperately wanting to help each character that implores me of their plight in direct address. I have to note here the performances of Iris Henderson as Horatio, who managed to reel me into the story from her first line, plus Katie Boyle as Laertes, who moved me to tears watching him receive news of Ophelia’s death.
I assumed that the bulk of this review would be a reflection upon what Hamlet is like performed by an all-female company. When the show finished and I came to writing, I found I actually had very little to say on the matter at all. In her director's note, Upstill states that “as a company we have discovered and can tell the truth of this story, including the truth of mostly male characters, as female actors.” I can confirm this end is absolutely achieved. In finding this truth, there ends up being very little for me to say regarding the gender of the actors or characters. Hamlet is Hamlet is Hamlet; as however the actor chooses to play him, regardless of their gender. What is invigorating is seeing so many women unapologetically commanding space, demanding roles, demanding their shot at one of the most famous and arguably best plays in the Western canon. And after all, why not?
Catch Hamlet on the 27th of May at the Boat Cafe at 7pm,
PLUS a double bill with Ophelia Thinks Harder, at the Boat Cafe, 28th of May, 3.30pm
And on June 2nd and 4th - atWhitireia Performance Centre at 7.30pm