Hamlet a crowd-pleaser, if not a nerve-tingler

11 October 2019

Review: Pop-up Globe, Hamlet ⋅
Crown Perth, October 10 ⋅
Review by Jan Hallam⋅

This play at the Pop-up Globe was always going to be tricky for me. I am a veteran of deeply psychological performances of this mighty, complex work.

Like its director David Lawrence, who so eloquently expressed in his program notes, I too had lost a father at 14 at the time Hamlet was slapped down on my school desk.

For Lawrence, the assistant artistic director of the Pop-up Globe – a concept so bravely and successfully executed by its founder, New Zealand-based Dr Miles Gregory – Hamlet came into his life when he was at his “absolute craziest and totally incapable of processing my grief”. It spoke to him when no one else around him could understand what he was experiencing.

Being an adolescent female in the 1970s, for me it was hopeless love and an urge to rescue – Hamlet and me! It also raised discourses about Ophelia. Why wasn’t she more defiant, like Juliet? But, hey, things didn’t turn out so well for Juliet, either.

So Pop-up Globe isn’t that. It’s a bear pit of a place. Full of people moving around, making their own random entrances and exits, clinking drinks, taking selfies and pics of the play (no flash, no sound, please share on social media #popupglobe). It’s an event, an occasion and a pretty rare one at that. It’s not every day you get to see Shakespeare in a pretty impressive replica of London’s second Globe Theatre.

Perth approximated the atmosphere with the annual Shakespeare in the Park but its signature chillaxed vibe didn’t quite crank up the same feeling of being locked in a cauldron – for better or worse.

I’m not a great one for official programs, but a lot of love and detail has gone into this one. Discovering Gregory’s passion and endeavour, then his ability to share the vision to draw in exterior and interior architects; costume design (lavishly conceived by Hannah Lobelson) and dramaturgs – it is something of a wonder.

But, of course, this isn’t a circus – it’s a theatre and ultimately the play’s the thing to catch the collective conscience of the audience.

Four plays are being performed in repertory (Hamlet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Twelfth Night and Measure for Measure). A bold move to program the heaviest hitting of all of Shakespeare’s tragedies in a venue so perfectly conducive to his bawdy comedies.

It was muscular, accessible revenge theatre, with a bit of swashbuckle and fisticuffs and lots of boy humour and blood. Pictured: Adrian Hooke (standing) and Max Loban in Pop-Up Globe’s ‘Hamlet’.

Performances were strong on opening night. Adrian Hooke brought a fascinating millennial feel to Hamlet. He wore his angst like a good fitting pair of raw denim; obvious only on occasion when required but always present. None of the yelling, pacing, spikes of violent emotion we’re so used to witnessing. More a “a WTF has happened to my life” rendering. It was refreshing.

I was particularly moved by the famous “get thee to a nunnery” scene between Hamlet and Ophelia (a role so sensitively portrayed by Summer Millett). Perhaps it was because it took place in my little corner of the round and I could see the whites of the actors’ eyes. Or maybe because this was an interpretation that spoke more of the rank web of corruption the young couple have found themselves caught up in. It was less of a whore injunction and more of a protective gesture, a “get the hell out of here while you have the chance” plea.

Again, interesting, thoughtful.

Also, special mention of Max Loban’s Claudius, Hamlet’s uncle. Loban was powerful as the well-shod, smiling assassin who kills his brother in order to grab the crown and his brother’s wife. As things start to unravel for him, he is a thing to watch – the darting eyes, the off-balance moments. Great acting.

And, of course, there’s the comedy, the carnivalesque japing with the audience and each other. And, equally, the crowd lapped it up. It was muscular, accessible revenge theatre, with a bit of swashbuckle and fisticuffs and lots of boy humour and blood.

My muted disappointment about the show has more to do with the lack of nerve-tingling drama and my own need to feel more potently disgusted by this gross political swamp that swallows up everyone and everything. This was then and this is also now. It’s a play to stir action.

Alas, our time is out of joint. Oh, cursed spite we have no one to set it right.

Hamlet runs until October 20.

Pictured: Adrian Hooke brings a fascinating millennial feel to Hamlet.

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Author —
Jan Hallam

Jan Hallam has been watching theatre for a living for the past 30 years. Working for both The West Australian and The Sunday Times, she has been lucky to have experienced just how diverse and talented the Perth arts scene is. When she’s not sitting in the dark, she’s staring at the light of a computer screen as editor and journalist. She’s the queen of the sandpit castle.

Past Articles

  • Shakespeare’s ode to love right on song

    A risky strategy may or may not pay off, but a dash of ABBA, some lusty vocals and a strong cast keep the joy afloat in Fremantle Theatre Company’s production of Twelfth Night, writes Jan Hallam.

  • Timely reminder of the power of satire

    The WAAPA third year acting students’ sparkling revival of Moliere’s classic Tartuffe speaks to the kind of cynicism so prevalent in our halls of power today, writes Jan Hallam.

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