Stage

Hamlet (Belvoir St, Sydney)

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What do the critics think of Hamlet? We review the reviews.
[box]12 Oct – 01 Dec show times: Tue 6.30pm; Wed-Fri 8pm; Sat 2pm & 8pm; Sun 5pm Book tickets [/box]

The low-down

Divisive auter Simon Stone gets his first shot at directing Shakespeare with Toby Schmitz leading the cast as the Great Dane. This substantially edited version of the play that has been time and again recognised as The Bard’s greatest delves straight into the matter at the heart of the piece – Hamlet’s torment. With a supporting cast featuring Shakespearean veterans Robyn Nevin and John Gaden, this has been one of the most hotly anticipated productions in Sydney this year.

Our verdict

Simon Stone has raised The Bard. His Hamlet, typically sliced and diced, is thrilling. And Toby Schmitz is commanding in the lead. READ OUR REVIEW

What the other critics say

Stone’s work usually divides critics as much as it divides audiences, and his Hamlet is no exception. Most agree that the cuts he’s made to the text work, but their responses to the physical side of the production vary greatly. Critics seem to be just as divided over Schmitz’s Hamlet; some think he absolutely shines, whereas others aren’t quite on board with his bold, overtly expressive performance. Perhaps some Sydney critics have been over-Schmitzed in recent years? If that’s the case, they can always catch Ewen Leslie in the role when he takes over on 19 November. Consensus rating: 7/10
“The strikingly coiffed Schmitz (matched in the hair stakes by Robyn Nevin’s tipsy Gertrude – he is clearly his mother’s son) is charismatic and quicksilver, punctuating his speech with repressed sobs. At times he gasps for air and in that pause we see a soul harrowed by loss. Elsewhere his yowls, groans and cries sound untethered to any real emotion. It is an impressive performance, though Schmitz’s mission to make every line sound new to our ears can sometimes erode the clear connection between line and thought.” Jason Blake, Sydney Morning Herald
“Toby Schmitz’s prince is a desperately tormented young man, so stricken with grief for his father that even as he delivers the great soliloquies he keeps being reduced to inarticulate groans and howls. His face keeps crumbling, his body fails him.  He is watching everything from the sidelines, egged on by the other silent watcher, the Ghost of his father, played with a looming quiet gravitas by Anthony Phelan. This Hamlet is so anguished that for a while at the beginning we feel like shaking him and saying “get over it” but Schmitz’s virtuoso performance soon takes us beyond that. He is overwhelmed by his pain.” John McCallum, The Australian
“It’s bold, dark and undeniably daring – purists may well have a heart attack – but if you’re prepared to let go of what you’ve seen before, there’s much to be admired in it as well. Casting Toby Schmitz has paid off brilliantly – his Hamlet veers violently between adolescent wackiness and hand-wringing despair as he prowls the edges of the stage, his jerky body language and nervous tics saying as much about his rapidly deteriorating state of mind as anything that come out of his mouth.” Polly Simons, Daily Telegraph
“In the end, hubris will get you every time. In this instance, the “perfect combination” of director Simon Stone and leading man Toby Schmitz delivers a curate’s egg: brilliant moments and a fair amount of banality in between. There’s also an ill thought out choice made along the way that turns the final five minutes into something approaching farce.” Diana Simmonds, StageNoise
“And it’s really grief that’s driving this production – Stone’s grief for the loss of his father infuses the choices, and fuels Schmitz’s Hamlet. There’s heartbreak here – even if we don’t necessarily feel it coming through Schmitz’s performance all the time. It’s a Schmitzy kind of Hamlet, mugging for the crowd, physically restless, touching his hair too much. He screams, cries – to varying effect. On opening night, his patterns of emphasis for any number of lines seemed counterintuitive, and would be counterproductive to anyone not already familiar with the lines understanding their meaning/s.” Dee Jefferson, Time Out Sydney
 

Verdict

A typically Stone-Schmitz take on Shakespeare. If that’s your thing, go for it.

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