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Published on Tuesday, 23 August 2011

2 stars

theSpaces on the Mile (venue website)
15-20, 22-27 Aug, 5:05pm-5:55pm
Reviewed by Ellen Macpherson

 Family-friendly. Suitable for all ages.

Personally, I think it was misleading to call this play Ophelia. To me, it was no more about Ophelia than it was about Polonius. Perhaps I went in with naively high expectations about her role – but to my mind, she was still as one-dimensional and slightly obnoxious as she is in Shakespeare’s original work, albeit in a rather different way.

The focus of the script is still, strangely, Hamlet’s personal tale, with the difference to the original version being the use of Ophelia and Horatio as Hamlet’s two sidekicks. They form a Golden Trio against the villainy of Claudius and Gertrude (who have also unfortunately been dumbed down to suit the play’s needs). I think the writers have attempted to spotlight her character in a way that won’t upset the traditionalists; but when you’ve got a vision as gutsy as a play about Ophelia, you have to have the guts to change things.  And this play doesn’t change nearly enough.

Given the use of traditional language and costume, it requires a certain suspension of disbelief that Ophelia could end up doing what she does (I won’t spoil the plot, but she does have a significant role, even though it seemingly comes out of nowhere). Shakespearean gender roles aside, the use of traditional language forced the writers to create original lines in the style of the Bard – because let’s face it, the original Ophelia has barely enough to string together fifteen minutes, let alone a full production. Maybe to someone who isn’t as familiar with Hamlet, the original lines would have passed; the writers certainly tried their hardest. Sadly, for me it erred on the side of tacky.

In its effort to be an alternative vision of the original, the play falls into a number of cliches that I feel it could have avoided. It insists on squeezing in a list of ‘Hamlet Must-Haves’, particularly the Ghost and the To Be or Not to Be speech, even though they were mere blips on Ophelia’s story. In the end, Ophelia seems to end up clinging onto Hamlet and Horatio like a third wheel, and it’s extremely awkward.

I don’t mean to be horrible about this production. I admire the idea of it: Ophelia is the one female Shakespeare character that I’ve always wanted to see given justice, which is why this production excited me so much on paper. Alas, I think some things need to be modernised and bastardised to work... and this play just wasn’t gutsy enough.


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