In this collaboration between Essential Theatre and Three Birds Theatre, Ophelia is no longer just that unfortunate girl who had a thing for flowers.
Image: the cast of Enter Ophelia. Photography (c) Theresa Harrison.
Early in this compact little five-hander that plays with Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Queen Gertrude remarks caustically to her son’s girlfriend, Ophelia, that they are the only women in the story. It’s a point well worth making, even for those familiar with the Bard’s work. His dramas in particular have a paucity of women, if only because male actors were all he had to work with (great fun in the comedies, as Melbourne audiences had the pleasure of discovering over recent months with the Pop-Up Globe’s As You Like It). There are two women in Hamlet, and Ophelia in particular is a cipher: a young woman pushed and pulled by the men around her, until she goes mad and drowns herself.
In this collaboration between Essential Theatre and Three Birds Theatre, Ophelia is no longer just that unfortunate girl who had a thing for flowers. She has opinions and finds ways influence, even take charge of her fate. Gertrude becomes more than an emotionally strained murderer, and other women in the insular Danish court are revealed, working the room hard for themselves more than the oft-mentioned ‘greater good’. In just 60 minutes, without a set and hardly a prop to speak of, Enter Ophelia turns Hamlet upside down with a clever and energetic feminist reinterpretation.
In La Mama’s tiny black space, Amanda LaBonte, Sophie Lampel, Candace Miles, Madelaine Nunn and Anna Rodway almost flawlessly (even at the second preview) powered through the fast-moving, often poetic dialogue. As a chorus they quickly and easily tossed lines to each other, then individually snapped into character. Characters who are almost immediately well defined and, despite the proverbial ticking clock, never overplayed – though Candace Miles had some barely contained fun posturing and grimacing as Ophelia’s judgemental brother.
As her officious father, Sophie Lampel was suitably rigid, and Madelaine Nunn turned Hamlet’s masculine confidence into childish irritation when his ladylove asked that he consider her more than superficially. Amanda LaBonte’s cigarette-smoking, scheming-yet-world-weary Gertrude is a cornerstone of the play, as is Anna Rodway’s Ophelia. Her testing encounters with the queen are critical to the transformation of her character from pliant nobody to complex, driven woman.
There’s no fat on Miles, Nunn and Rodway’s script, though it sounds luxurious with its slightly old-fashioned, formal language, scattered with snippets of Shakespeare. Director John Kachoyan keeps the cast moving around the small stage, so the audience is always drawn to them rather than their humble surrounds. They are all similarly dressed in black jeans and boots, and slightly power-shouldered 80s-futuristic tops made of subtly shiny fabric, differentiated by colour and texture. The most notable among the small handful of props is a glowing umbrella. Russell Goldsmith’s electronic soundscape is often moody without being Gothic; harsh dance beats interject for the jarringly artificial courtiers’ linking scenes.
Bringing a female perspective to Shakespeare, including Hamlet, is no longer a seismic shift in theatre, but Enter Ophelia offers a fresh, intelligent, even playful take of remarkable economy.
Rating: 3½ stars out of 5
By Candace Miles, Madelaine Nunn and Anna Rodway
Director: John Kachoyan
Cast: Amanda LaBonte, Sophie Lampel, Candace Miles, Madelaine Nunn and Anna Rodway
Set/costume design: Laura Hawkins
Lighting design: Steve Hendy
Sound design: Russell Goldsmith
La Mama Theatre, Carlton
22 February – 4 March 2018