If productions could be awarded six stars, this Sydney Shakespeare Company production would be given that honour.
Photo: Rob Studdert
I recently had the privilege of seeing the best Hamlet I have ever seen, and that includes the 1969 Nicol Williamson film version which hitherto I would have named the definitive version.
Steve Hopley and the Sydney Shakespeare Company staged Hamlet at Fort Denison on Sydney Harbour. First of all the choice of setting was inspired, as the long stretched-out battlements of the island fortress made a better Elsinore than any of the world's wealthiest theatre companies could ever afford, or could ever fit on stage. Then the courageous choice to limit the audience to 15 per night, and to walk them promenade style through the many and appropriate spaces, kept us all enthralled.
The acting was superb. Steven Hopley directed himself in an understated and totally believable Hamlet, whose anger burst forth powerfully and sparingly and just when required. The entire cast was captivating, but if I had to single out any beyond Hopley for special note, it would be Paul Russell for his Pollonius. I felt I really understood that character for the first time in my life after Russell's rendition. Then it is almost worth going just to see Richard Hilliar’s Laertes and his spine chillingly real reception of the news of the death of his sister Ophelia. But everyone sparkled, including Peter-William Jamieson as a spellbinding Horatio and Emily Weare as an enigmatic Gertrude.
The lighting was precise and telling, the direction 'a point', the music haunting and the way in which the audience was moved about, was so smooth and unobtrusive we didn't realise it was happening till we were at the next spot. We were totally and absolutely a part of the performance from beginning to end, and we could not help but always be aware, out of the corner of our eye, of the majestic beauty of Sydney Harbour with the Opera House and the Bridge looming just beyond the reach of the Danish Court.
This was not just a play, and not just a great production of a great play, but an experience that will stay in our memories forever. If I could give it 6 stars out of 5 I would. Oh what the hell. Six stars.
The play is running Monday nights only through March and April. Ticket price includes water taxi from the Opera House and a delicious evening meal at interval. I fear it may be already booked out, but I am hoping the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service will grant an extension so more people will be able to enjoy this special experience.
Rating: 5 stars out of 5
Hamlet on Fort Denison
By William Shakespeare
A Sydney Shakespeare Company production
Directed by Steven Hopley
Starring Benjamin Bonar, Richard Hilliar, Peter-William Jamieson, Lana Kershaw, Chris Miller,
Paul Russell, Matt Stewart, Brendon Taylor, Emily Weare & Steven Hopley as Hamlet
Fort Denison, Sydney Harbour
Mondays at 7pm, 2 March – 27 April