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DUBLIN THEATRE FESTIVAL: Hamlet – Gate Theatre, Dublin

Writer: William Shakespeare 

Director: Yaël Farber 

Reviewer: Ciara L. Murphy

“Now might I do it”. The closing quotation of Yaël Farber’s director’s note signals a willingness to try. To try to bring new meaning to Shakespeare’s Hamlet. A Hamlet for our times, perhaps.

However, this contemporary production raises one question for this reviewer: why?

Alas, this question remains unanswered. It is clear from the staging that Farber’s Hamlet is drawing on past problematics around nationalism and staunch conservatism in order to comment on the West’s current struggle with the same. The play’s modernist – almost Ibsen-esque – look sets the piece in more turbulent global times. However, this reviewer is not entirely convinced that it achieves its aim.

The decision to cast Ruth Negga in the title role marks another notch in a long history of female Irish Hamlets. However, Negga is the first black Irish woman to play the role.

This iteration of Hamlet sits well in The Gate’s wider programming theme: ‘The Outsider’. Negga’s Hamlet is utterly solipsistic, and although her intense and brooding portrayal of the Dane is flawlessly delivered, the distance between the audience and the performance can sometimes be too great. Despite this, Negga succeeds in holding firm the play’s many tensions.

The ensemble itself is unfortunately hit and miss. Nick Dunning’s Polonius is delightfully droll, bringing excellent comic timing to the piece. Owen Roe’s Claudius is solid and dramatic. However, Aoife Duffin’s Ophelia comes across as over-wrought and Mark Huberman’s Horatio fails to convince.

One of the most successful aspects of this production is the staging. The decision to make use of the auditorium space works well. The fractious energy created by the off-stage performances brings a much-needed energy boost to the audience space in a production that can at times be one speed only.

The set design (Susan Hilferty) is a marvel. The stage is utterly encompassed with dark, towering doors. A marked nod to the themes of entrapment. It flows convincingly from stage to audience space. The stagecraft of this piece is flawless. Hilferty’s set and costume design are in clear conversation with each other and Tom Lane’s composition and sound design accentuate the bleak setting. The lighting (Paul Keoghan) creates added depth without cluttering the already multi-layered space.

This production leaves many pertinent questions unanswered. Namely, why this Hamlet now? This is a production that entertains but in this reviewer’s opinion, does not quite justify its existence.

Runs until 27 October 2018 | Image: Ros Kavanagh

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Unconvincing

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