Unquestionably William’s most famous and certainly most quoted play, (Yorick and all that), Hamlet is a big play and not an easy one to travel – yet, for the first time, Bell Shakespeare are touring this epic saga which will cross paths with NORPA this weekend.
Off the back of directing the critically acclaimed, award winning Henry V for Bell Shakespeare in 2014, Damien Ryan will deliver a new production of Hamlet, one of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies.
Hamlet is a detailed family portrait in the political landscape of a ‘rotten’ Denmark, a country furiously preparing for war, not realising that the enemy lies within.
Hamlet is a young man cast in an unfamiliar role in a story he never expected to tell. Deeply saddened by the sudden death of his father, he is further shocked to find his mother quickly remarried to his uncle, the dead kings brother.
Echonetdaily spoke to Damien about his Hamlet and touring this extraordinary play…
We wanted to tell a clear, unpretentious and passionate tale with the great play, with a contemporary feel and strong sense of the family drama that drives the story and the political thriller that contextualises it.
The design gives us a place called Elsinore, a beautiful, palacial glass window and doors that frame all the interior and exterior action that Shakespeare builds the story around. From there, it offers a strong sense of place in which the focus goes to the acting and the remarkable language.
Do you think with a play that has been so often performed that you can still find new things to say or ways to say it?
Absolutely, Shakespeare’s play is defined by its ambiguity and imaginative richness, there are as many Hamlet’s as there are actors to play him and people to witness it.
It is a fairly bottomless well of possibility and each moment have several possible truths attached to it.
We simply set out to work toward what we felt it said to us and hopefully the result is something original.
Probably his final recognition that death is the easiest thing in the world to accept if we can only learn to accept it.
It is a sublime piece of writing.
How did you ask Josh McConville to take on the character of Hamlet – what were the key motivations or images that you gave him?
Just to find the truth of it and to wash away the inevitable ghosts of other performances that can often haunt actors.
Actors want to play it because it is so complete and so deeply personal. My main advice to Josh was that we make sense of every thought, that we don’t iron out the wonderful contradictions and inconsistencies that Hamlet is characterised by. Play each moment and let the narrative look after itself.
Hamlet’s grief and the suppression of it by the world around him was our starting point in telling the story.
I wanted to help Josh avoid the many vanities that the role can bring out in actors, and to get to the heart of the pain he is in, a pain that drives everything for Hamlet, a longing for the most prodiundof all truths, why do we live? Why do we die? And why do we fear it so much?
Absolutely more than that.
The story is of infidelity and family dysfunction, of loyalty, of honesty to ourselves and those around us, of the world parents create for their children to inherit, of the debts young people are supposed to pay to fathers and mothers, of a state that watches its citizens every move with an insidious secrecy, of a country that is obsessed with the protection of its borders without recognising that the enemy is already within, of depression, of the fact that politics is fundamentally personal.
The play is a tragedy – which means it is not about ‘particular’ things ‘particular’ histories or events or people, it is about universal things, true things that we all struggle with.
It was written to offer moral debate, and all of the above are the stuff of our daily lives, socially, culturally, politically, personally.
What are the mistakes do you think that you can make when presenting Hamlet?
I don’t know and I’ve probably made them, but the only mistake I think is to be glib with the material or cynical or judge it, our job is to frame it with clarity and present it with honesty and hopefully an audience will go with it.
Hopefully an accumulation of moments and details to bring about a world that seems new and genuine in which the story has a palpable resonance with things we recognise about ourselves today, without pulling apart the threads that hold it together and have held it together as one of the greatest plays in the human experience.
And the main thing that makes it different and original is a new and wonderful set of storytellers playing the part.
It’s a terrific and very intelligent cast and design team.
Bell Shakespeare’s tour of HAMLET – coming toNORPA at Lismore City Hall
Saturday 29 August, 7:30pm
Monday 31 August, matinee 11am & 7:30pm
Bookings: 1300 066 772 or www.norpa.org.au