Bell Shakespeare’s Hamlet at Arts Centre Melbourne
Shakespeare’s seminal tragedy is now playing at the Arts Centre and after the untold damage the pandemic has done to our attention spans, there’s hardly been a better time to embrace live theatre – and the total immersion, IRL, that it offers.
With a female in the titular role and Artistic Director Peter Evan’s fresh take – including nostalgic, retro costuming inspired by the fragile glamour of Grace Kelly’s reign as Princess of Monaco – Hamlet makes for a scintillating ride. No matter how vague one’s actual grasp of the text might be.
Much-quoted lines like “To be or not to be”, “To sleep, perchance to dream”, “To thine own self be true”, and “The lady doth protest too much” are of course instantly recognisable and scenes like Hamlet’s heartfelt, one-sided conversation with a skull are etched in our collective consciousness. But if the intricacies of the original text – and its nearly 30000 words of dialogue – aren't something you've encountered before, don't let it deter you – if anything, it's an advantage.
Not knowing what will happen or who might survive the unfolding treacheries and tumults offers a narrative experience that puts any Marvel blockbuster to shame. After all, it’s not for nothing that Hamlet has survived two great plagues and been performed almost continuously for over 400 years.
For Shakespeare connoisseurs, live performance is a familiar balm. For Hamlet virgins, the production offers something else – a story and a performance that offers respite from the daily carousel of digital diversions. And without the ability to pause, rewind or “continue watching” later, the investment – and the payoff – really hits different.