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Hamlet

Brendan Cowell and Colin Moody are the toxic heart and soul of Marion Potts’s remarkable production.

Hamlet

By Diana Simmonds

Hamlet, Bell Shakespeare Company, Drama Theatre at Sydney Opera House; June 6-July 12, 2008; ph: (61 2) 9250 7777. Then Jul 16-Aug 2, 2008, The Playhouse, The Arts Centre, Melbourne; ph: Ticketmaster 136100, www.bellshakespeare.com.au.

Creatives: Director: Marion Potts, Set design: Fiona Crombie, Lighting design: Nick Schlieper; Composer: Sarah Blasko, Sound design: Stefan Gregory; Fight director: Nigel Poulton; Assistant director: Nic Dorward; Vocal Coach: Carmen Lysiak. Cast: Sarah Blasko, Laura Brent, Brendan Cowell, Russell Kiefel, Joe Manning, Heather Mitchell, Colin Moody, Barry Otto, Paul Reichstein, Tim Richards, Chris Ryan, Darren Weller, Matthew Whittet.

It is said that casting is half the battle in getting a production underway and moving in the right direction. Marion Potts's new Hamlet is proof of the truth in that. The strength of the cast and the conviction in their playing is simply splendid.

It's worth going back, for a moment, to late 2007 when word first drifted out that she had cast Brendan Cowell as the tragic prince of Denmark and had scooped up Colin Moody even as the controversy over his departure from the STC Actors' Company was at its height. At that point both men were labeled "trouble", "difficult", "temperamental" and other epithets not intended as flattery. Another set of descriptions, however, could be "often brilliant", "easily bored" and "don't suffer fools gladly", which draws another picture altogether.

Now, Cowell and Moody are the toxic heart and soul of Potts's remarkable production. They are the fires that burn in the dankly dripping, mist-wreathed halls of Elsinore. It's a place where the sun may shine but rarely penetrates the atmosphere of murderous ambition and smouldering revenge that swirls about the two men and their hapless courts.

As the usurping king Claudius, Moody is an elegant, smooth-talking thug whose passion for his dead brother's wife is all the more disturbing for its gentleness in the face of an otherwise ruthless demeanour. His foil and focus is Heather Mitchell. Her Queen Gertrude is a woman whose physical delicacy and beauty are so at odds with her surroundings, even young Ophelia seems robust by comparison. Dressed in a diaphanous jade-coloured gown, for all the world like a corsage to be worn by a triumphant male, Gertrude stands between Claudius and Hamlet, throwing the dark aspect of their rivalry and jealousy into sharp focus.

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