From the moment you take your seat, you know this is going to be a hell of a ride. The audience sits uncomfortably in harsh lights, able to just make out the frames of the cast scattered around the stage, waiting for the lights to go dark. As the apocalypse looms, these actors, introduced to us by their real names, attempt to finish their interpretation of Hamlet.
The Danger Ensemble is known for its boldness, for its willingness to go beyond the ordinary and into making theatre that, for so many reasons, really matters. The Hamlet Apocalypse is not an exception to that; I’d actually say it’s rather the example. As the countdown begins, the audience is overwhelmed with a growing anticipation and dread that only escalates as we see the line between the actors’ reality and Hamlet’s fiction blur.
I first saw the show back at La Boite in 2011, and it was one of those shows that never quite leaves you. Six years on, the memory of exact lines and staging fades but the feeling you get in a short hour production is enduring. There is a strange liberation that comes with it, a release in the countdown that it will all be over soon, that is accompanied by a contrasting feeling of a closing fist around your throat. The cast are an open book and perfectly balanced; it is a glimpse into a rehearsal room with a distinct sense of truth about it. Every member has a part to play, and boy do they play it. Thomas Hutchins as Claudius commands every line he speaks with authority and purpose, Chris Beckey as the Ghost of King Hamlet is a poignant presence felt at all times, and Nicole Harvey as Ophelia has remarkable physicality with her final line leaving us haunted and despairing.
With so many memorable moments in The Hamlet Apocalypse, it’s hard to pick just a few. The moments where the madness ensues, like where Caroline Dunphy as Gertrude and Thomas Hutchins spit wine at each other, are mesmerising and delightful. But the quieter moments, the intimate moments, the confessional moments, are when the weight of the story rests on the audience. Caroline’s maternal moments, Mitch Wood’s (Hamlet) confession of love returned with a swift and wounding rejection, the longing for children one will never have. That’s when it hits us that this isn’t about Hamlet at all.
Peta Ward as Rosencrantz and Laertes brings hilarity (and wine), and is totally fearless in her candidness. Her pure, authentic humour lifts the production, making the gravity of her solemn moments that much heavier; she is a true joy to watch. The stage starts clean, eventually soiled with ash and wine and chalk as time counts down, bringing about a frenzied cabin-fever that spreads to the audience. The room begins to feel smaller, the walls seem to grow closer together as the cast chant numbers that dwindle down to the final moments. The sound design by Dane Alexander and lighting production by Ben Hughes, is, as always, incredible, effective and masterful in a great set. The persistent whirring puts the audience on edge, serving as a constant reminder of the inevitable end.
Hamlet is the vehicle for what is an outpouring of complete sincerity. It is an outpouring of love, remorse, anguish, of desperation, of life and death, that descends into hysteria as time runs out. The Hamlet Apocalypse is exposed, visceral and harrowing as the world begins to fray at the edge and falls apart before our eyes. The Danger Ensemble is known for its boldness, for its willingness to go beyond the ordinary and into making theatre that, for these reasons and more, really matters.
Written by A. Kong
To book tickets head to www.dangerensemble.com