Talking Movies

October 16, 2019

Hamlet

Director Geoff O’Keeffe presents his second production of Leaving Cert staple Hamlet in three years at the Mill Theatre Dundrum.

“The play’s the thing wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the King”

Prince Hamlet (Kyle Hixon) is in mourning for his father, Old Hamlet. But the rest of the Danish court is celebrating as Old Hamlet’s brother Claudius (Gerard Byrne) has succeeded not only to the throne, but also to the royal bed, unexpectedly marrying the widowed Queen Gertrude (Caoilfhionn McDonnell). But Hamlet’s isolated mourning turns to bloody thoughts of vengeance when his friend Horatio (Harry Butler) reveals that Old Hamlet’s ghost has been haunting the battlements of Elsinore, and the ghost unmasks Claudius as a murderous usurper. As Hamlet feigns madness to better hatch his revenge, the guilt-ridden Claudius seeks the aid of foppish counsellor Polonius (Malcolm Adams), whose children Ophelia (Laoise Sweeney) and Laertes (Felix Brown) will become tragically ensnared in the mayhem that consumes the court, as will Hamlet’s untrustworthy university friends Rosencrantz (Jack Mullarkey) and Guildenstern (Rachel O’Connell).

There is an odd quality of déjà vu when the same director tackles the same play again so soon. 2016’s Claudius, Neill Fleming, appears in three minor roles as does the Laertes of that production, Matthew O’Brien. The pair bring some hi-viz vest business to grave-digging as well as doing a questionably saucy mime of the Murder of Gonzago to the strains of the Arctic Monkeys. Similarly attention-grabbing doubling occurs with Mullarkey and O’Connell as a Rosencrantz and Guildenstern who, clad in red and green hoodies and leather jackets, project an oddly Bill & Ted vibe, while as Bernardo and Marcellus they are unrecognisable in flak vests and helmets, wringing an unexpected laugh from Horatio’s careless line next to two jumpy soldiers with rifles. O’Keeffe reprises a conceit, having Byrne play both Claudius and Old Hamlet, using Declan Brennan’s video projection to allow a shaven Byrne loom over proceedings while a hirsute Byrne stalks the stage as the surviving brother.

Byrne, however, is not a revelatory Claudius as Fleming was in 2016, a synecdoche of this production’s reined in ambitions, which extends even to the set design of Gerard Bourke utilising a smaller than usual playing space dominated by a platform and ramp. Likewise a solid Hixon does not emulate Shane O’Regan’s physical Hamlet; his is a subdued performance that blooms after the interval when he mines the black comedy of the madness. Hixon and Byrne often seem oddly rushed in their delivery, which draws attention to the more measured verse of House Polonius: Sweeney is an Ophelia of unusual tragic gravitas in her madness, Brown a charismatic Laertes, and Adams very entertaining as a self-regarding man in a spiffy three-piece suit, whose ritual platitudes are so familiar his children can finish them for him. The interval at 90 minutes could come earlier, but it then gallops to the finish.

This Hamlet becomes more sure-footed after the interval, but while it is always engaging it lacks the notes of unusual interest we have to come expect from these productions.

3/5

Hamlet continues its run at the Mill Theatre Dundrum until the 25th of October.

October 16, 2017

King Lear

The Mill Theatre returns to the Shakespearean well in autumn once again with a spirited production of Shakespeare’s bleakest tragedy.

Lear (Philip Judge) has decided to divide his kingdom between his three daughters. But, while sycophantic siblings Goneril (Sharon McCoy) and Regan (Maureen O’Connell) flatter him to get their rightful shares, his truth-telling daughter Cordelia (Clodagh Mooney Duggan) refuses to lie or exaggerate, enraging the vain Lear; and her share is thus split between her sisters’ husbands Cornwall (Fiach Kunz) and Albany (Damien Devaney). Cordelia leaves England sans dowry to become the Queen of France, and the steadfast courtier Kent (Matthew O’Brien) is banished for taking her part in the quarrel. He ‘disguises’ himself to serve Lear, while the scheming bastard Edmund (Michael David McKernan) uses the fraught situation to eliminate his legitimate brother Edgar (Tom Moran) from the line of succession to Gloucester (Damien Devaney again); exploiting the political chaos that Lear’s wise Fool (Clodagh Mooney Duggan again) foresaw…

There is a certain Game of Thrones vibe to this production, from Kent’s ‘disguise’ being a Yorkshire swagger, through the furry ruff of Lear’s greatcoat, to the stylised throne amidst three massive complicated spikes making a crown that dominates Gerard Bourke’s set design. This delivers an unexpected visual payoff when near the finale the villainous Edmund sits on the throne to lean on his sword; so close to possessing absolute power… Comparisons to Selina Cartmell’s 2013 Abbey production are inevitable as that trafficked in medieval visuals, but this production is considerably less expansive; no galleries and wolfhounds here. Director Geoff O’Keefe, however, avoids the muddled paganism Cartmell attempted. But, in a play already replete with disguises, he has doubled a number of parts; most startlingly Cordelia and the Fool being the same actress. That bold choice pays off, as do most of the doublings, though there is one silly wig.

O’Keefe doesn’t quite achieve anything as revelatory as Neill Fleming’s Claudius in last year’s Hamlet, but he adds interesting notes to multiple characters. The Fool is the apex of an uncommon commitment to the bawdiness of the play, and when CMD returns as Cordelia she holds a sword almost as a signal that she has been hardened by her exile; which makes her reunion with the mad Lear, when he finally recognises her, all the more tear-jerking. McCoy’s Goneril is more nuanced than the pantomime villain oft presented, her glances at Regan and Cordelia in the opening scene suggest a panicked resort to flattery and encouragement to her sisters to do likewise to humour a mad old man. O’Keefe perhaps overeggs her late asides to the audience being spot-lit, but McCoy grows into villainy impressively; aided by O’Connell’s novel rendering of Regan as daffy malice, and McKernan bringing out the black comedy of their love triangle as an Edmund cut from Richard III’s gloating cloth.

Judge is a notably conversational Lear in his ‘fast intent’ speech; his decision already made there is no need for pomp or majesty. This is a king in flight from majesty. Whereas previous Lears that I have seen, Owen Roe and Gerard Adlum, favoured camp notes for their madness, Judge’s Lear is childish; running, hiding behind benches, playing games with imaginary friends. His retreat from responsibility while wishing to still enjoy kingship is after all a retreat to childishness, and his shocking spit on Goneril is of a part with the spite of children. The madness on the heath is wonderfully achieved with Kris Mooney’s blue lights raking the audience while Declan Brennan’s sound effects swirl queasily. Judge’s descent into second childhood is expressed through sudden rage that almost outstrips language, perhaps the impulse for the sound design of screeching animals between scenes. In support Tom Ronayne is wonderful comic relief as a put upon servant, fussing over benches and defending himself with a cloth.

This is a fine production that has a number of interesting interpretations, and succeeds in pulling off the extreme ending which still remains the ultimate kick in the guts.

3.5/5

King Lear continues its run at the Mill Theatre until the 28th of October.

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