REVIEW: Hamlet | Belvoir St Theatre, Sydney
We all know that, to make a Hamlet, you have to break a few eggs and, if there’s anyone that’s known for doing that, it’s young gun director Simon Stone. Sometimes, said eggs are cracked with deft precision; at others, they fracture in an unexpected way and end up all over the floor. When critics laud Simon, he seems to exhibit no loss of composure but, if we say, now and then, ‘oh, Simon, what a mess!’, he’s tended to attribute it to our misunderstanding of cooking technique.
The universally admirable thing about the talented Mr Stone is he’s prepared to test new recipes, experimenting with texture and flavour. He’s done it with Hamlet, cutting scenes, characters, tracts and diatribes, to remain true to the spirit of the play. That’s the argument. And it’s very substantially sustained.
On entering, one is struck by the sheer number of lights (Benjamin Cisterne), shrouded, so as to create a cloak-and-dagger atmosphere. The other immediately striking thing is Belvoir artistic director, Ralph Myers’, spare design. A black curtain spans the back and side wall of the space, helping create a brooding mood and suggesting concealment. There are rows of black plastic chairs lining said walls. Hamlet (Toby Schmitz) sits, quietly, on one of them, as the audience filters in and works its way through the customary babble of settlement into their own seats. By and by, Schmitz begins to twitch, in idiosyncratic ways that are nonetheless patterned, to suggest pathology. In a matter of minutes, much of the thrust of the play has been intimated. It’s true genius. But nothing stands out more than Luke Byrne, kitted-out as a concert pianist, sitting at a grand piano, eking out phonometrician Erik Satie’s Gymnopedie, No. 1; this, in itself, a piquant resonance, as Satie, at the behest of Jean Cocteau, wrote incidental music for a 1915 production of A Midsummer Night’ Dream. Byrne, too, provided a more-or-less continuous, unobtrusive score, which repeatedly interpolated medieval songs from counter-tenor, Maximilian Riebl. To have these performers intermingling with the central action of the play might sound like a madness as deep-seated as the not-so-great Dane’s, but, again, Stone’s never battle-weary, lionhearted courage was rewarded.
It’s gratifying to see a move back to zeroing in on the prince’s angst. Schmitz portrays it such that we might find ourselves speculating he’s, poetically, way off the autism spectrum Richter scale; Asberger’s with two all-beef patties, perhaps. Or perhaps we’ll surmise he’s a common (for they are, quite) psychopath. Maybe he just needs a new mattress and a good night’s sleep. He’s almost certainly seen too many horror movies, or gone overboard with the D & D. Whatever conclusions we draw, he’s slanted towards incoherent, adolescent rage, which fits the character, as drawn by Shakespeare, remarkably well, methinks. And what a relief the oedipal remains little more than an allusion: I’m rather tired of that exploration.
Schmitz gave it his all and I’m sure he must’ve been knackered by the end. In all his roles, it’s as much about Toby, I think, as his character, but that’s ok. He’s more than charismatic, so he gets away with it. And he’s a realist.
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