Talking Movies

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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December 9, 2013

Macbeth Needs Your Money!

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Do you want to fund an attempt to recreate the atmosphere of a production of Macbeth in Shakespeare’s Globe in Smock Alley? Then click on this link,http://fundit.ie/project/macbeth-1, and take your own tiny step towards being Geoffrey Rush in Shakespeare in Love – “Who are you?” “Ah, well, I’m the money”…

For two weeks in January theatre troupe Fast Intent will convert the atmospheric Smock Alley Boys School space into a traditional Elizabethan Playhouse, a theatre of the type that Shakespeare himself would have recognised. In this heaving indoor cauldron; complete with Shakespeare’s favourite trouble-makers, rowdy groundlings who stand rather than sit because their tickets cost so little; they will present one of Shakespeare’s greatest and most thrilling plays – the brilliantly bloody Macbeth. Taking inspiration from research into Elizabethan and Jacobean staging practices they promise an engaging, thrilling experience, full of blood and guts, swords and shields, raucous crowds and high drama. Playing the power couple to avoid like the plague in medieval Scotland are Gerard Adlum (as Macbeth) and Jennifer Laverty (as Lady M), who both greatly impressed in previous Fast Intent production The Lark. Finbarr Doyle is the vengeful MacDuff, and the ensemble includes Patrick Doyle (fresh from his brilliant Harker in Fast Intent’s recent Dracula), Katie McCann, Conor Marren, Kyle Hixon,Claire Jenkins, and Jamie Hallahan. The set design is by Cait Corkery, and other crew members include Carol Conway and Caoimhe Murphy.

So why fund Macbeth? Star Gerard Adlum explains the appeal of the Thane thus: “He may not have Hamlet’s education, or Richard II’s eloquence, but Macbeth has a dextrous grasp of language and expresses himself with the ease of a poet, though his thoughts are never easy. Left to his own devices he deals in metaphors and similes, as if he desperately needs the audience to know that he is not a thug, not a brute. The challenge for the actor is not to prove his strength but to reveal his innate vulnerability.” For Adlum Macbeth’s key line of self-justification is ‘Things bad begun make strong themselves by ill’ – “This is the unfortunate logic that drives him on; two wrongs will eventually make a right.” Director Keith Thompson, a sometime co-writer and co-director hereabouts, has previously helmed productions of Richard III and Hamlet; the former starring Adlum as Buckingham. “I have wanted to direct Macbeth for years. It is both incredibly simple and complex. Complex in that it seems to cram into two hours the entire gamut of human emotions: love, hope, fear, desire, greed, guilt, loss. At the same time its speed and simplicity means there is no time to stop and think. Everything is truly experienced in the moment. It lends itself to constant re-interpretation, having something to say for each and every generation. It is human, raw and very, very messy.” Thompson finds Lady MacDuff’s line ‘but I remember I am in this earthly world where to do harm is often laudable, to do good sometime accounted dangerous folly’ “incredibly relevant to the world we are currently living in, where apathy is our common discourse and greed often not just considered lawful, but admirable. It shows that though this may have always been the case, there are always people who will identify it and struggle against it.”

So, that’s what they have to say. So why do I say to you fund Macbeth? Well, I’ve already thrown money at it because this is Fast Intent doing Macbeth. Fast Intent consistently pare back plays to their bare bones, and focus the audience’s energy onto the performances and the text. When it worked with Dracula it brought Stoker’s best prose to vivid, sensuous life. In The Lark it aided Anouilh’s theological ideas to sparkle across the stage, with real emotions grounding them in reality. And this is a cast that has proven itself at Shakespeare at a young age. While still in college Finbarr Doyle played Richard III with gleeful malevolence, Patrick Doyle played Macbeth with striking originality as distracted by visions, and Gerard Adlum played Lear with a startling maturity for such a young actor. But having a great cast is only one competent here. The key to successfully staging Shakespeare is not being afraid to cut his words. Reverence before his text too often is simply fear and trembling before the Bard rather than awe; and the result is a slow untheatrical death. But you need to have a confidence bordering on chutzpah to do the needful sometimes and meddle with the sacred scriptures. Keith Thompson, directing Hamlet in 2012, cut Polonius’ advice to Laertes, in its entirety, because he wanted a more serious Polonius. So, yeah, he has the confidence to pull this off bustling take…

Fast Intent’s goal is to raise €3,500, which will cover about half of the production costs; including costumes and hiring the venue – Smock Alley’s Boys School. The other half of the budget will consist of sponsorship from local businesses and by hosting various fundraising events. The contribution of Fundit donors is thus vital to the successful realisation of Macbeth. Fast Intent was established in 2011 by Sarah Finlay, Ger Adlum, Nessa Matthews and Keith Thompson. Their theatrical work to date has included acclaimed productions of Harold Pinter’s Ashes to Ashes (The Complex), Family Voices and One for the Road (both New Theatre) and The Lark by Jean Anouilh (Smock Alley). 2013 has seen them producing an entire body of work for Dublin Castle’s cultural programme, including historical monologue pieces for Culture Night, an adaptation of Dracula for the Bram Stoker Festival and the just gone Christmas show, Shakespeare by Candlelight. Rewards for funding at various levels are set out on the website, where the company also expresses its desire to have you asone of their “dearest partners of greatness”.

Go on, dream of sound and fury, and click http://fundit.ie/project/macbeth-1

February 15, 2012

Hamlet

Alas poor Yorick, I knew him Horatio, a man of infinite jest

Regular readers will remember previous worries about the possibility of an unbiased review if you know actors in a play. The problem is magnified with a play directed by Keith Thompson; my sometime co-writer, co-director, and leading man. This is a semi-unbiased review of his production of Hamlet in UCD’s Astra Hall last month with Sam McGovern playing the Dane.

Thompson has form with Shakespeare at the Astra Hall as UCD’s Leaving Cert production. In 2007 his swaggering turn as Banquo alongside Ciara Gough’s charismatically domineering Lady Macbeth upended the text completely by reducing a slightly nervous Macbeth to interloper status in his own play. Thompson also upended expectations in Sarah Finlay’s King Lear with a lecherous and camp interpretation of Gloucester that superbly heightened the pain of that character’s grisly fate at the hands of Cornwall. Here, Thompson cut the text drastically to showcase naturalistic comedy and an arrestingly physical central performance from Sam McGovern. Patrick Doyle’s Macbeth in 2009 was an incredibly original performance that saw Macbeth as a distrait hero who, touched by magic, sees things others can’t before descending into psychosis. McGovern’s Hamlet was less determinedly uncanny but displayed an equally confident mastery of the verse.

Doyle threw away his most quotable quotes as mumbles to wrong-foot the audience expecting a scholastic reading, and Thompson simply chopped many of the most famous lines. Polonius becomes a very serious character because of his ‘advice’ to Laertes disappearing completely. This approach worked eventually but made the first act hard going. A minimalist set of clinical white drapes, and sparse props being wheeled in, made Sam McGovern’s first black-clad appearance very arresting; but his emo-Hamlet, grieving furiously in this anti-septic arena, led to overwrought scenes with the ghost which suggested that five acts played at a level of such painfully overdone earnestness, without any comic relief, would become unbearable. Far from it. The second act began with Hamlet in a red football shirt wheeling in a child’s sled of picture books and soft toys which he threw at Polonius…

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern lingered in the memory because, from the moment Russ Gaynor as a drunkenly buffonish Guildenstern and Jackie Murphy as the sober sister Rosencrantz arrived, they were saucy, hilarious, and conveyed that they really were old friends of Hamlet, and that they had old shared comic routines and in-jokes. That feel of naturalistic comedy is what made this production sparkle. Murphy’s stunt casting as a female Rosencrantz paid off by making her plea to Hamlet to yield up Polonius’ body, ‘My lord, you once did love me’, unexpectedly affecting. The jokiness developing naturally from the text consistently allowed incredible depth to suddenly emerge as a counterpoint; most notably during the arrival of the players when a tableau was formed and a spot-lit, visibly stunned Hamlet turned to haltingly deliver the ‘O, what a rogue and peasant slave’ soliloquy.

Joking aside, the tragedy was streamlined by textual cuts; foregrounding Hamlet as a stalking avenger rather than chronic ditherer. This Prince was truly menacing in his madness, his murder of Polonius seemed to have been long in the making from his violent threats against Ophelia, Gertrude, and even Guildenstern, with his ever present and very nasty pocket knife. Colm Kenny-Vaughan’s antagonist Claudius deserves special mention. Gill Lambert and Niamh O’Nolan’s costumes were inexplicably New Romantic but Kenny-Vaughan worked their wizened make-up job to suggest a character decaying from the inside as guilt eats away his soul. He imported a huge amount of complexity into Claudius’s guilt, his delivery of the devastating couplet ‘My words fly up, my thoughts remain below/Words without thoughts never to heaven go’ deeply regretful, and his assenting to drink the poisoned chalice becoming an atoning gesture.

Less showy supporting turns from Molly O’Mahony as a subdued but concerned Gertrude, and John Kelly as a nicely simmering Laertes, fleshed out a convincingly naturalistic Court. McGovern’s impressive madness was able to fly between high comedy, touching pathos, and startling violence in large part because of the grounding effect of Ben Waddell’s stalwart turn as Horatio. But, while there was much to praise in the interpretation of the text and the performances coaxed from the youthful cast, the default minimalist staging adopted by Thompson and producer Niall Lane never fully utilised the full playing space of the Astra Hall, and in its white-out effect was too reminiscent of Finlay’s 2010 staging of King Lear which offered late Kurosawa style colour coded royal houses against an icily austere backdrop. The climactic fencing duel, however, was thrillingly realised within this space.

Thompson and McGovern are unlikely to do another Astra Hall Shakespeare production but any future collaboration between them should be eagerly anticipated.

4/5

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