(How) to be or not to be: Hamlet in the Other Room reimagines the question

(How) to be or not to be: Hamlet in the Other Room  reimagines the question

In their lively debut, the Good Company Theatre Collective brings the audience along on a refreshing, choose-your-own-adventure restaging of Shakespeare’s Hamlet that challenges what we see and how we see it. (Image by Jamie Hornsby, supplied.)

By Anisha Pillarisetty | @nishkinsilk

The Good Company Theatre Collective’s debut Hamlet in the Other Room is a fierce, tender, deeply witty production that grabs the proverbial bull – in this case, Shakespeare’s Hamlet and the broader theatrical canon – by the horns.

The production, presented by an all-woman ensemble, takes place simultaneously in two separate rooms – in the cosy dressing room (“the Other Room”) and further down the corridor, in a cavernous space called “Hamlet” – leaving it up to the audience to flit between the two as they please, following actors “on” and “off” stage.

Pictured: Lucy Haas-Hennessy as Polonius, holding chalk while performing Hamlet, a chalk drawing on the wall behind them (Image credit: Jamie Hornsby)

The sparse set design and lighting for the restaging of Hamlet is a clever touch – allowing the actors to fill up the space with their performances (literally, at times, by writing on the wall with chalk and weaving through and around the audience). Abrupt lighting changes and tongue-in-cheek soundtracks highlight the characters grappling with the difficulty of reimagining Hamlet within the socio-political landscape of systemic hierarchies. 

The production is at once clever, and intricate as it is emotive and embodied. This is exemplified in the famous Shakespearean monologue “To be, or not to be”, which is taken to all new feet-stomping, chest-thumping heights.

The hilarious “backstage” banter that seeps “on” stage, the poetic brevity and imagery of the narrative detours, and the comedic interludes, all seamlessly unravel the production from within (and without) Shakespeare’s Hamlet – culminating in an ethereal, immersive soundscape created through the actors harmonising as they take turns narrating, while scattered across the audience and stage.

Pictured: Kidaan Zelleke as Hamlet on the main stage. (Image credit: Jamie Hornsby)

Voice is used in striking ways throughout, from overlapping dialogue in the disagreements and commiserations backstage, to the broader implications of whose voice carries weight; this well-timed ebb and flow of voices, evokes something bigger than the stage, something more far-reaching than Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

It is difficult to single out acting performances in a show that so thoroughly embraced the collaborative and seemingly improvisational aspects of devised theatre. From Zelleke’s deftly executed performance as Hamlet, Mee’s thorough characterisation of Rosencrantz, Marcellus and B, Leonard’s striking monologue as Ophelia, and Haas-Hennesy’s astute, humorous realisation of Cleo and Polonious, each cast member showed acute awareness of each other, working collectively to pull off a meticulously crafted production.

If the choose-your-own-adventure format wasn’t enough to hook audiences, the play provides ample entertainment throughout – from Mee’s dynamic lip-sync performance, to an ensemble choreography that captivated with repetition and unison.

It is no easy task to challenge patriarchal and racial paradigms while taking apart and reconstructing a play as entrenched in theatrical tradition as Hamlet. But, the cast and crew from Good Company Theatre have managed it with utmost care, courage, self-reflexivity, and above all, collaboration.

Hamlet in the Other Room is showing at RUMPUS until 12 December 2021.

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