first night


Lily Travers is relieved by NADSAT's confidence in Shakespeare's original text.



Once more, we head with trepidation dear friends, into the dangerous territory of one of Shakespeare’s most fervently analysed tragedies. To attempt to scale such a mountain may be madness but in NADSAT’s production there was certainly method.


First nights are often marked by the failing of technology and memory. This production however, defied the odds and offered no such embarrassing ‘dramatic pauses’: an admirable feat considering the short preparation time and the demanding nature of such copious and complex dialogue. One must first commend the Director (Oulton), Producer (Smith) and crew for creating an overall aesthetic style where setting and costume refrained from placing the play into any specific society, place or time. This successfully fulfilled Oulton’s desire to “let Shakespeare’s story and language carry itself.”


A particular point of interest was the use of film which was employed as a good example of how modern technology can work alongside Shakespeare’s text rather than distracting from it. In general, it served to visually enhance psychological turmoil. The first film clip however, was not cohesive with this symbolism, resulting in a lack of continuity and detracting from what was potentially an artistically innovative effect.


The real glitch only occurred right at the end of the final act. In an unintentional moment of impeccable yet woefully inappropriate comic timing, a single line, which should have seemed an aside to the audience, appeared to be expressed to the whole company. This reduced the tragic poisoning of Gertrude (Melton) to a moment closer to slapstick. What’s more, the previous arrival of Osric (Wingfield) whose humorous sexuality jarred in the cathartic moment, saw the audience chortling, not weeping, at the tragic demise of Denmark.


Overall, McNulty’s performance as Hamlet was astonishingly consistent and professional. Hamlet is famously unable to wrench himself out of a fixed state of psychological torture to actually take any decisive actions. As a real human specimen under Freudian scrutiny, McNulty’s performance was tremendous yet as a character onstage, some potential nuances in character were overshadowed by the dominant attitude of a petulant teen. Perhaps in a nod to patriotism, Hamlet’s ‘trip to England’ in the second half seemed to bring about a relishable discovery of a subtler expression of emotion and there was a pronounced shift in the delicacy of McNulty’s performance.


Notable performances came from Crawford (Ophelia) who did not fall into the trap of forgetting that the truly mad are not conscious of the abnormality of their mental state. There seemed to be true objective behind every action which steered her performance away from what could so easily have been forced or farcical making her demise truly tragic and deplorable. Drysdale (Claudius) commanded an easy and natural stage presence. Melton (Gertrude) and Forde (Laertes) were highly successful in their natural delivery, expressing clear meaning and intent and avoiding a clichéd declamatory style. Clarke (Polonius) brought a vibrant comic presence and tackled Shakespeare’s longer speeches admirably, maintaining meaning and interest throughout. The rest of the cast, especially Stevenson (Horatio), were impeccable in maintaining energy, individual mannerisms and staying completely true to their characters throughout.


Ultimately, a valiant effort: to hold the audience interest and maintain energy onstage throughout a play in which physical action is so sparse is quite a triumph. NADSAT may be content in the knowledge that some do indeed achieve greatness.


* * * *


Lily Travers

5 November 2011

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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