Monday, October 12, 2015

Bell Shakespeare's Hamlet

A couple of months ago, a small group of club members went to see the Bell Shakespeare Company's production of Hamlet at the State Theatre of Western Australia. Apologies for this late posting - the excitement of getting the sonnet competition up and running completely overwhelmed my intention to post this earlier!

Frances, as usual, submitted a thoughtful, considered  and quite detailed response for this post. She says: 'It is over a month since we saw Hamlet at the State Theatre and it's an interesting exercise to look back now and recall what are the lasting impressions left by the production.

Fight scene - photo courtesy Whitsunday Times
'The elegant, many-windowed wall, placed diagonally across the stage, struck me immediately.  It was beautiful and functional.  At first it was the exterior of a possibly 18th century palace, reminiscent of the houses of the present-day Danish royal family and suitable for a modern-dress production, far from the craggy fastness of Elsinore.  The audience and the lone sentry on guard looked in from the cold through the windows to a warm and roistering wedding celebration.  It was a great start, and clever to make part of Scene 2 a sort of prologue.

'The wall became increasingly permeable as the action moved into the palace and through various apartments, and with subtle lighting changes almost disappeared during the graveyard scene.  It was a brilliantly flexible set which served the movement of the plot perfectly, combined with the skilfully unobtrusive placing and removal of props and furniture.

'The actors were admirable, performing with vigour and understanding.  I particularly appreciated both Claudius (Sean O'Shea) and Gertrude (Doris Younane) for their subtly insightful phrasing.  Hamlet (Josh McConville) was a strong presence throughout, Ophelia's (Matilda Ridgeway) mad scene was touchingly convincing and Polonius (Philip Dodd) portrayed effectively the elder statesman who was definitely not gaga.  I felt that Horatio (Ivan Donato) was somewhat overlooked; he did not come across as quite the reliable friend who is Hamlet's staunch adviser and only confidant.  The character who raised most questions for me was the Ghost (Sean O'Shea).  This was no martial figure sure to evoke fear and awe in the onlookers, but rather a poor old person shuffling about in his pyjamas, not matching Hamlet's description of him, to Gertrude.

'I would have liked to ask the director why the "play within the play" was performed in Italian.  It seemed unnecessary and the supertext a distraction.  The huge bed which served as stage filled much of the acting area, confining the "audience" to a corner upstage.  Consequently Claudius was denied his dramatic exit, calling for lights.  He was already almost offstage, and the impact of his response to the play was weakened.  Right afterwards, though, the murder of Polonius was the most convincing I think I have seen, both for the action and for the clear motivation behind it.

'The whole performance maintained a powerful pace, and the final scene was full of drama.  It is a great credit to the actors that they could create and sustain such intense suspense through the long duel, when the outcome is so universally known, and I am sure that the entire audience felt as I did, the need to relax the shoulders and take a few deep breaths when the end was finally reached.'

Jon says: 'I left the theatre feeling somewhat underwhelmed, but I'm not sure the production is entirely to blame. Being the first time I'd ever seen the play live, I think I would have rather experienced a more traditional, unabridged version. Even allowing for a difference in tastes though, I feel like this version over-emphasised Hamlet's destructive actions to the detriment of the story. Hamlet is arguably a hero-villain, but I don't think he can be allowed to lose the audience's favour lest we cease to care about the existential crisis at the heart of the play. This Hamlet is a bit too much of a brute for me to care all that much about why he's acting so outrageously.'

Elaine says: 'Bell Shakespeare company never amazes me and always amazes me. It never amazes me because I know I will always come away satisfied, and always amazes me because of its interpretation and its intensity. Hamlet was no exception. The scenery which was SO simple but so evocative and multilayered. The acting has left the impression of homogeny. Characters coming to the fore and then blending seamlessly into the background. No individual egos: more a team ethos. I have to confess to being a Bell tragic.'

Satima says: 'Like Elaine, I am a bit of a Bell tragic. The company is not afraid to see Shakespeare as entertainment rather than Holy Writ. Like many productions today, they took what a few years ago would have been regarded as "liberties" with the scripts, and are not afraid to modernise the characters and settings. I loved this version of Hamlet and would willingly see it again.'

Comments welcome!

Friday, October 2, 2015

Sonnet Writing Competition is Live!

This year is the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare's death, and like other Shakespeare lovers worldwide, the Shakespeare Club of Western Australia plans a celebration of the bard's life.


We are going to commemorate the anniversary with a sonnet-writing competition for adults and secondary school students, open to would-be writers and experienced poets alike.


We want your entries! There are separate sections for secondary students and adults with decent prize money in both categories. Why not try your hand at composing a Shakespearean Sonnet on a Western Australian theme?


The Student Category is open to any student of any secondary school in Western Australia. The Adult Category is open to any Australian Resident (excepting members of the Shakespeare Club of WA). Everything you need to know about where to send entries and so forth can be found in the Competition Rules.


In both sections, there will be a 1st Prize of $300, a 2nd Prize of $200 and a 3rd Prize of $100


Competition Rules: Click here! 


Adult Entry Form:  Click here!


Student Entry Form: Click here!


So get those notebooks out and start scribbling! Note that entries must be received by 23 September 2016.