On the adaptation of Shakespeare’s well-known tale, one critic comments that “…the classic quotes [are handled] with skill, giving them a whole new meaning when they slip through other characters' lips. That said, it's very obvious, not quite letting the audience think for itself..” I think this is a fair critique of Ophelia Thinks Harder when viewed from 2016 in the midst of third wave feminism. The writer’s is a pre-healing, powerfully unapologetic voice; one which, although highly pertinent to me, was palpably uncomfortable for some audience members. The play has been written from one point in a complex and very valid journey, and though self-aware of some character’s uncompromising decries that “all men are bastards and rapists” it nonetheless pulls no punches in its portrayal of a battle between genders.
The all-female cast of Deborah Eve Rea, Ania Upstill, Sabrina Martin, Katie Boyle, Alida Steemson, Catriona Tipene, Iris Henderson and Pippiajna Jane each bring a powerful energy to the stage. Sabrina Martin’s generous embodiment of Polonius, Laertes, Actor and Witch are mesmerising. She appears to truly sit inside her characters rather than just show them to us; capturing great humanity and manipulating her physicality with skill. Deborah Eve Rea’s Hamlet is a testament to amazing character work! As a petulant and violent ‘’centre of his own narrative”, Rea wears her pregnant belly with pride but such conviction in her male privilege that I do not question the logic of it. I and others I talk to to, relish the intense irony of Rea as Hamlet stating with much derision that “…women are led by their wombs”. Her comedic timing is deft and if it we’re not for the challenging nature of much of her dialogue and actions I think her performance would have been accorded many more well-deserved laughs. Catriona Tipene’s Ophelia is a mammoth undertaking for the emotional stakes she brings as well as the stage time accorded her as lead in her own narrative (yuss!). She spends a lot of the first half in a heightened state of distress and confusion so the later moments of calm and resolve are particularly affecting adding a pleasing contrast. All eight actresses present a range of fully-fleshed characters, displaying a comfort with one another that helps to portray the complex dynamics of the play.
The simple touring set does not add much to the production aside from a screen for performers to retreat behind and the low stage in the venue unfortunately meant that the actor’s floor work wasn’t visible to some audience members. The lack of design in the production overall (due to the nature of being transportable) is highlighted by the non-theatrical setting and the café atmosphere is at times distracting from the intensity of scenes. My hope is that in the black box of Whitirea Theatre during the latter half of the Wellington season, the illusion of the play’s world, (spanning a lengthy 2.5 hours) will be more easily maintained.
In conjunction with a production of Hamlet, Lord Lackbeard’s Touring Company’s Ophelia Thinks Harder provides a beautiful, rounded commentary on madness, gender and I suspect (though I am yet to see Hamlet) the nature of love and power. It is well worth an evening’s viewing.
Ophelia Thinks Harder is on May 26th and 28th from 7pm at Boat Cafe, and on June 3rd at Whitireia Performance Centre.
The Company are also performing Hamlet on May 25 and 27th from 7pm at Boat Cafe, and on June 2nd and 4th - at Whitireia Performance Centre. Bookings via Eventfinda: http://www.eventfinda.co.nz/whatson/events/wellington