Printable CopyHAMLET
The Adelaide Festival
Adelaide Festival Theatre
Until 06 Mar 2018

Review by Tony Busch

From the first ominous rumblings – created, apparently, by dragging a hard rubber ball across a tam-tam – you know you’re in for opera that pushes the boundaries.

Brett Dean’s “Hamlet” is true to the Bard in terms of the storyline but the libretto robs the title character of some of his best bits, “To be or not to be” being one strange aberration. What Dean has created though is a musical piece that explores sound as a landscape through which the singers must find their way.

The first act is indulgently long and would benefit from 15 minutes pruning, yet it contains some impressive theatre.

Neil Armfield’s production, which premiered at Glyndebourne last year, is visually simple but provides a wealth of atmosphere and opportunity for the singers to excel. The gravedigger scene is pure genius and pure theatre.

Allan Clayton is Hamlet, more childishly unpredictable than royal, whose separation from the royal family is immediately evident.

Both Dean and librettist Matthew Jocelyn seem uncomfortable with pinning the character down. To quote Jocelyn from the program “My Hamlet is mercurial – he is whoever the director and singer can mine from the material.”

As a consequence, Dean’s Hamlet is somewhat stuttering and repetitive musically. Not that Clayton is at all deficient. His tenor voice is pushed to the limits and he convinces in every scene, deftly mining both humour and darkness to create a psychologically complex performance that engages and demands sympathy, as Shakespeare must have intended. It’s a stellar turn.

Similarly, Lorina Gore’s Ophelia is driven to extremes by the demands of the score, yet conquers all in a tour-de-force performance. Her mad scene is breathtaking.

The entire cast is excellent. Rod Gilfry shines as Claudius, Cheryl Barker is a shallow and strained Gertrude, Samuel Sakker is a noble Laertes, Rupert Enticknap and Christopher Lowrey make the most of the foppish Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and Jud Arthur is an anguished and forbidding ghost as well as a delightful, whistling gravedigger. Douglas McNicol brings his wealth of experience to the role of Horatio, imbuing it with real sentiment. His final scene with the dying Hamlet is superb.

The denouement of the opera, involving the famous duel, is one of the best pieces of theatre this reviewer has seen and it brings the opera to a resounding conclusion.

As with “Saul” last year, the Adelaide Festival is to be congratulated for providing the opportunity to experience this production so soon after its world premiere. Bravo to all involved.