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 14, 2018

Macbeth

Director Geoff O’Keefe reunites with actor Neill Fleming, following his memorable Claudius in the Mill’s 2016 Hamlet, for an eerie take on Shakespeare’s Scottish play.

Civil War rages in Scotland. King Duncan (Damien Devaney) is only kept on the throne by the bloody valour of the Thane of Glamis, Macbeth (Neill Fleming). But when three witches prophesy that Macbeth shall be Thane of Cawdor and King of Scotland hereafter fatal ambition seizes the mind of both his wife (Nichola MacEvilly) and he. Obstacles in his path are Duncan, and his son Malcolm (Matthew O’Brien); and obstacles to security as King are friend Banquo (Andrew Kenny), and his son Fleance (Eanna Hardwicke). And having filed his mind for the sake of his ambition all morality and sanity go by the wayside for Macbeth…

Gerard Bourke’s set and Kris Mooney’s lighting design create a powerfully eerie atmosphere. A skeleton and a decaying body hang over the stage emphasising the brutal nature of this Dark Ages kingdom, while Olga Criado Monleon’s costume design of flowing robes with all-encompassing hoods for the witches unsex them, allowing a terrific initial jolt when they seem to exit on one side and immediately appear on the other by magic, and also continually allowing them to prowl in the shadows of a stage replete with nooks and crannies. Their constant surveillance of the action makes them appear like irresponsible Greek gods toying their chosen mortals, and allows a terrific interval when they close the curtains with some theatrical magic.

If Michael Fassbender’s cinematic interpretation seemed to focus on the line ‘Full of scorpions is my mind’, Fleming’s turn here seemed to pivot on his agonised complaint to Lady M, ‘I have filed my mind’. MacEvilly’s Lady Macbeth is wonderfully contemptuous of Macbeth’s weakness during the feast, and in her sleepwalking seems less to be plagued by guilt as to be reciting both sides of her fight with Macbeth for his blundering with the knives. But despite the darkness O’Keefe finds some unexpected comedy in the text. Devaney’s Porter is played as still reeking of drink, and Macbeth arrives as if after carousing, concluding the recitations of ominous portents with a tart ‘It was a rough night’. There is also a delirious moment where Macbeth wheels around during the feast to check if Banquo is still there precisely when Banquo has melted away temporarily, the better to appal him later.

Playing Shakespeare with a cast of nine requires much doubling, and bar the predictably Lynchian moment when Devaney’s Porter appears right after the murder of Devaney’s Duncan, it works very well. Ailbhe Cowley very effectively switches between Lady Ross and Lady Macbeth’s servant with quick changes of hair, costume, and accent, while Kenny makes his doctor unrecognisable from his Banquo. Jed Murray’s imposing Macduff is a gruffer character than we’re used to, and his sword-fight with Macbeth ends with a piece of derring-do that wouldn’t be out of place in a Hollywood swashbuckler.

The gruesome coup de grace may not work for all, but this is a fast-moving production of much dark magic.

4/5

Macbeth continues its run at the Mill Theatre until the 26th of October.

October 16, 2016

Hamlet

Director Geoff O’Keeffe fashions an intriguing interpretation of Claudius in an energetic production of Hamlet at the Mill Theatre Dundrum.

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Prince Hamlet (Shane O’Regan) is in mourning for his father, Old Hamlet. But the rest of the court is celebrating as Old Hamlet’s brother Claudius (Neill Fleming) has succeeded not only to the throne, but also to the royal bed, unexpectedly marrying the widowed Queen Gertrude (Claire O’Donovan). But Hamlet’s isolated mourning turns to bloody thoughts of vengeance when his friend Horatio (Stephen O’Leary) reveals that Old Hamlet’s ghost has been haunting the battlements of Elsinore, and the ghost reveals Claudius as a murderous usurper. As Hamlet feigns madness to better hatch his revenge, the guilt-ridden Claudius seeks the aid of pompous counsellor Polonius (Damien Devaney), whose children Ophelia (Clara Harte) and Laertes (Matthew O’Brien) will become tragically ensnared in the mayhem that consumes the court, as will Hamlet’s untrustworthy university friends Rosencrantz (Paul Quinn Jr) and Guildenstern (Graeme Coughlan).

All Hamlets are alike; each Claudius is Claudius in its own way. O’Keeffe has Fleming play both Claudius and Old Hamlet, using Declan Brennan’s video projection to allow a hirsute Fleming loom over proceedings while a shaven Fleming commands the stage as the surviving brother.  Fleming is inspired as an unpredictable King. Laertes almost flinches when begging permission to leave, as if Claudius might react violently. This is a man the court has yet to take the measure of, and he is given an unexpectedly hot-blooded relationship with Gertrude, as well as a jaw-dropping moment where he joins Hamlet’s laughing at his own bad pun before dispassionately punching him. Fleming’s Claudius edges close to Macbeth, possibly a good man before ambition and adulterous desire undid him. He is also surprisingly funny, many facial expressions giving a ‘Dear God, why must everything be so difficult?!’ exasperation at the courtiers he has won, culminating in a sardonic toast with the poisoned chalice.

O’Regan is a very physical Hamlet, dashing Ophelia to the ground in a rage that shocks himself, and later performing a flying leap on to Gertrude’s bed to pin her to it while he harangues her for marrying Claudius. But he also shrinks into a haunted crouch to deliver ‘To be or not to be’, as Kris Mooney’s lights dim and adopt one colour (blue, green, orange) during each soliloquy to bring us a privileged glimpse inside the mind of Hamlet or Claudius. O’Regan and O’Brien are noticeably youthful, believable as university students rather than the customary thirtysomethings. Gerard Bourke’s ingenious set design, steps leading down from a tall castle wall and a shorter glass-panelled wall, enables fluid movement between scenes, and O’Keeffe wrings some great laughs from offhand moments in the text. But where Keith Thompson chopped famous lines in his 2012 production, O’Keefe is less willing to wield scissors. Harte is a patient Ophelia, and Devaney conveys how sensible Polonius believes himself, but strict fidelity to their lines is a synecdoche of the show sacrificing pace for completeness.

This Hamlet undeniably loses momentum after the interval when it could use trimming, but its central disputants Hamlet and Claudius are given memorable life.

3.5/5

Hamlet continues its run at the Mill Theatre Dundrum until the 28th of October.

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