Hamlet, Bell Shakespeare | Review

Don’t have time to read the full review? Click here for a quick summary of the who, what, where and wine of this production.

In Elsinore, Denmark, Hamlet is mourning the death of his father and depressed and outraged at the quick marriage of his mother to Hamlet’s uncle Claudius. When the ghost of his father appears to him and tell him that Claudius is responsible for his untimely death, Hamlet is overwhelmed and paralysed by indecision over whether to believe the ghost’s claims and avenge his father. Ultimately convinced of its honesty, Hamlet sets out to enact his revenge – and in doing so, meets his own downfall.

Injected with bucketloads of energy and perfect articulation, Peter Evans’ Hamlet celebrates all of the light and dark in Shakespeare’s stories that make his works timeless. Part tragedy, part comedy and layered with moments of romance, betrayal and tension, Bell Shakespeare delivers in its most recent iteration of the classic tale.

This cast is so strong, each actor bringing something unique and utterly captivating to the ensemble. Harriet Gordon-Anderson is riveting as Hamlet, traversing numb grief, mania, rage, love and resignation with authenticity and lightning speed. Her portrayal of such an iconic male character makes for an interesting and valuable commentary on toxic masculinity and misogyny alike, as Hamlet’s public displays of grief become more socially acceptable than they typically are for a man, and his abhorrent treatment of the women in his life hit harder, feel harsher. When Gordon-Anderson is on stage, you can’t watch anyone else.

Rose Riley as Ophelia and Robert Menzies as Polonius are also standouts, Riley giving Ophelia all the sass and grace she needs to tug your heartstrings one minute and make you laugh out loud the next and Menzies playing the bumbling fool with hilarious intelligence.

Evans makes some bold choices in his interpretation of Hamlet. Some, including the choice to cast a woman to play Hamlet, paid off. Others, in particular the decision to costume the characters in 60s go-go fashion, unfortunately, don’t.

Had the costumes been more subtly influenced by 1960s styles, it may have worked better – some of the characters donned in more subtle apparel didn’t present a problem, including Hamlet’s own all-black outfit. But the brightly coloured go-go dresses, white stockings, garish suits and big hair were too distracting, clashing with the austere, dramatic forest staging. Meanwhile, the use of white confetti as snow initially created a stunning effect onstage – but then the actors and furniture were constantly brushing paper off themselves for the rest of the show.

These criticisms notwithstanding, Evans’ production of Hamlet is well worth seeing. Its vim and vigour, stellar casting and incredible energy capture your attention from beginning to end. Whether this is the first or hundredth time you encounter Hamlet, you’ll be grateful for it.

Wine Pairing | Penfolds Shiraz Cabernet, South Australia

Hamlet is a bold and complex story written by a man with a legacy in his field, so naturally the wine had to have some gravitas – and Penfolds has been a mainstay of Australian wine since the 1960s when table wine was first popularised around the country. This Shiraz Cabernet is the drink you want to be sipping on while standing outside in a Danish winter waiting for the ghost of your father to tell you who murdered him. It’s packed with body and velvety tannin, with delicious rich notes of black plum, blackberry, chocolate, leather and eucalyptus.

Pick it up from $15-25 from your local bottle-o.

Tasting Notes

Aussie Season5 Mar to 2 April, Sydney Opera House, 7 April to 16 April, Canberra Theatre Centre, 28 April to 14 May, Arts Centre Melbourne. Produced by Bell Shakespeare.
Ticket $$45-98
WriterWilliam Shakespeare
DirectorPeter Evans
Theatre Type & GenreTragedy
See it if you likeShakespearean plays, original adaptations of classics
Other Info
Wine PairingPenfolds Shiraz Cabernet
Criteria for Wine PairingFull-bodied, high flavour intensity, a combination of black fruit and oak notes