Teresa Cahill and Steve Clarke both attended separate productions of the Belvoir production of Hamlet. Rather than write separate reviews, they decided to chat about it. Here’s the transcript:
Steve Clarke: Teresa and I both went to see the Simon Stone, Belvoir production of Hamlet this month – I guess I may as well start by saying that I loved it. Teresa, what did you think?
Teresa Cahill: Yeah, I did too – I’m not sure I understood it!
Steve: Does anyone really understand Hamlet?
Teresa: I should! I studied it for the HSC but nothing came back!
Steve : So at least you had the advantage of forgetting something you’d already learned. Have you seen it since?
Teresa: Well, I’ve seen plenty of other Shakespeare stage productions and you can usually get some clues about what’s going on from the staging, but the Belvoir staging really threw me because it was impossible to tell who was where.
Steve: Yeah, I thought the staging was interesting because it was so minimal and more like what I imagine 17th-18th Century Shakespeare staging would’ve been like – almost no set. How would you describe it?
Teresa: I liked it. There were just plastic chairs on two sides making a corner. That was it - that was the only staging! The thing I really loved was that in the first half, everything was dark. The floor and the walls were black, and then in the second half everything was white, so the blood really showed up!
Steve: That’s one thing people may not realise if they haven’t seen Hamlet before – it’s particularly bloodthirsty. And there was some really visceral, theatre blood being used at the Belvoir. What I noticed was the characters that did or didn’t walk through the blood said something about the drama.
Teresa: Some walked around but Hamlet just walked right through the middle of it.
Steve: When Hamlet first stepped right in the middle of the pool, it made me so uncomfortable because it was a perfect parallel to his state of mind.
Teresa: Because he’s going a bit mad?
Steve: More than a bit!
Teresa: And Toby Schmitz did it so well.
Steve: He was incredible and you got the sense that this was an actor on the verge of much bigger things and I felt like this was one of those productions that far more people were going to claim they saw than actually did.
Teresa: From the moment you walked in, he’s sitting there on stage, he’s in the whole play, getting madder and madder, and at the end he came running out to take his bow with a big grin on his face, and you think, “I can’t believe you managed to do that and you’re still smiling!” He seemed pretty happy with himself.
Steve: Maybe he was relieved it was over! All I could think when you see him at the beginning, already crying before the play’s even started, was how silly I felt trying to figure out which row I was sitting in. Almost embarrassed that I was concerned about something so trivial like where I was going to sit while he was clearly pretty upset on stage.
Teresa: At one point, he ran down to a seat in the front row and kissed the woman sitting there, and all I could think was “I want to come back and sit in that same seat next time!”
Steve: Apparently he’s buffed up for the role, so I’m not surprised!
Teresa: It’s one of the few Belvoir production this year without nudity, so he didn’t have to worry about getting too buffed.
Steve: But there was a pornographic puppet show…
Teresa: That was so clever! I was impressed with Toby’s amazing puppetry skills and how much the actual puppets looked like the actors -
Steve: Freakishly like John Gaden and Robin Nevin!
Teresa: They were just perfect.
Steve: We should really talk about the music as well, because it was quite unusual. Do you think it worked? It was a real blend of styles and time periods and it bugged me a little at first.
Steve: Yeah, well they had a dapper pianist on stage in white tie and tails playing a Satie gymnopédie and later they brought our Melbourne counter-tenor, Max Riebl (formerly of the Cat Empire) singing Baroque opera, finishing with Purcell’s Dido’s lament. It was all over the place! There didn’t seem to be any logic or period consistency – just play whatever you like!
Teresa: I actually thought it was pretty powerful at the end with all the dead characters singing together - at that stage they were all covered in blood so I wasn’t really focused on the music!
Steve: At least there wasn’t too much Freudian Oedipal stuff. And they cut all the sword fights – did you notice? Just guns and blood! Characters seemed to just spontaneously die, which was great. That almost made it seem like the action was all in Hamlet’s head.
Teresa: I barely noticed the sword fights were missing.
Steve: Do you think Toby overplayed the crazy?
Teresa: No, he played crazy really well. How can you overplay crazy? Crazy has no limitations!
Steve: And it was a very accessible production. It didn’t feel like “high-art” Shakespeare.
Teresa: I loved the Australian accents.
Steve: At one point, Hamlet said “Oh, fuck!” instead of “Oh, fie!” I thought that was an improvement.
Teresa: Yep, an amazing production, I just loved it.
Steve: Well we both loved it. Thanks, Teresa!