Hiles shines in accessible Hamlet

hamlett
Bryan Hiles and Clare Mortimer in pre-publicity shots for Hamlet.

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Stage: Hamlet – Playhouse Drama (and touring)
REVIEW BY BILLY SUTER
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ONE can only continue to heartily applaud Durban’s Margie Coppen and Clare Mortimer of Think Theatre, co-producers of the city’s annual Shakespearean plays which, aimed at school pupils studying the Bard’s works, tour nationally for months each year.

Not only do these productions greatly help pupils studying famous works of literature, but Think Theatre’s efforts also promote interest in theatre among youth in general, and for that alone the team deserves accolades.

This year, after many years of having Othello as a staple choice, the company also have the opportunity to stage Hamlet – and a public performance at Durban’s Playhouse Drama this week, in collaboration with the Playhouse Company, proved highly rewarding.

On a simply dressed stage comprising scaffolding and block stairways, and podiums, some backed with maroon cloth, Mortimer has directed an accessible, well-paced version of the Bard’s longest and perhaps most influential play. It is staged with a mix of modern and military-styled costumes, depicting no specific time.

A tale of fear, betrayal, murder and revenge which Wikipedia labels as “the world’s most filmed story after Cinderella”, the drama also marks a fine performance by Durban theatre darling Bryan Hiles.

Hiles is a multiple award-winner for roles varying from the baker in Into the Woods to the nerdy Seymour in Little Shop of Horrors, and the troubled boy in Sweeney Todd, not to mention his many amusing panto turns.

As Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark, he has a role he can truly sink his teeth into – and which well showcases his dramatic chops.

He follows in the footsteps of such illustrious talents as Kenneth Branagh, Laurence Olivier, Benedict Cumberbatch, Richard Burton, Mel Gibson, Ethan Hawke, Jude Law and Ian Charleston, among many others who have played this iconic role.

Locally, I most recall Steven Stead, Neil Coppen and Iain ‘Ewok’ Robinson in the title role… all of them different, all of them striking and affecting.

Hiles, however, emerges as perhaps the most earthy, most relatable, of those I have seen on a local stage, exuding charisma and presence throughout a production that has Mortimer as his mother, Gertrude, and Michael Gritten as the uncle Hamlet loathes after he weds his mother only weeks after the death of his father, the king.

Hamlet’s friend Horatio is played by Nhlakanipho Manqele – not always audible on the night I attended – while Chris van Rensburg and Straw Nzimande appear as Hamlet’s mates, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.

Cara Roberts, who didn’t move me as much as she should have, appears as the tragic young heroine, Ophelia, and Marc Kay makes a good Laertes, Ophelia’s brother and the son of Polonius, the advisor to the king.

Standouts in this production are an effete Darren King as Polonius – sometimes almost channelling Carry On star Kenneth Williams? – and Rowan Bartlett, in good voice throughout and appearing in a number of roles, one of them enchantingly high camp.

Kirsty Ndawo also features in a small role, most notably in the play within a play sequence which makes clever, striking use of silhouette.

Hamlet and Othello will run in tandem and are touring to a number of country venues in KwaZulu-Natal, before transferring to Gauteng for runs in Johannesburg and Pretoria in May.

For more details phone Margie on 083 251 9412.


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