Te Whaea - Basement Theatre, 11 Hutchison Rd, Newtown, Wellington

22/07/2011 - 06/08/2011

Production Details

O heart, lose not thy nature.

Hamlet, Shakespeares most performed play worldwide, is to be staged in Wellington for the first time in five years. Melanie Camp will direct the play as part of her Master of Theatre Arts degree at Toi Whakaari and Victoria University. Performed in the Basement Theatre at Te Whaea National Dance and Drama Centre, the show will run from 22nd of July to the 6th of August (no shows on Sundays).

Melanie Camps production features a cast of only eleven actors, including prominent Wellington actors Anya Tate-Manning, Lauren Gibson, Hayden Frost and introducing David Young in the title role, in his first Wellington production. They will perform in an intimate setting to an audience of no more than fifty.

I wanted to bring it up close to the audience, to bring out the relationships, the vulnerability of these flawed characters. This way, its really in your face, and you cant help but be part of it,” says Camp.

Many people think Hamlet is a whiny twerp who cant get up the guts to revenge his fathers murder. Hamlet is not a revenge play, its a thriller set inside a revenge play. It is a play of action, of questioning, and fighting for what you believe in.”

My goal with this production is to ask questions. What is it to really be true to yourself? Hamlet chooses a difficult, lonely path. Why doesn’t he just kill his uncle, become King, marry Ophelia, have lots of little Hamlet babies and live happily ever after? Would you do the same?”

The production will place a strong emphasis on the use of sound and light. New Zealand composer Luke Di Somma is writing an original score for the play. Camp and Di Somma have collaborated on a number of projects in the past, and are working closely to make the music integral to the storytelling. An unusual method of lighting is being experimented with in rehearsals, with the actors able to use different light sources to explore the meaning of the scenes. It makes for some very exciting looking scenes, and it also helps the audience to understand whats really going on underneath the language, says Camp.

Melanie Camp has been involved in directing theatre in Christchurch for ten years, including plays such as The Dresser, The Importance of Being Earnest, Richard III, the musical Hair and numerous new works by Christchurch playwrights. Already in 2011 she has directed a rehearsed showing of the new New Zealand musical The Way Life Should Be, composed by Luke Di Somma, at the Court Theatre in Christchurch, and an excerpt from David Mamet’s Boston Marriage at Toi Whakaari, as part of her degree.

The Master of Theatre Arts in Directing is taught jointly by Toi Whakaari: NZ Drama School and the Theatre Programme of Victoria University of Wellington. Through a combination of practical and theoretical studies during this two-year postgraduate programme, MTA students develop the necessary skills to direct and initiate projects in the professional theatre and related areas.

The current presentation is one of a series of practical directing assignments that constitute a substantial component of the second year of study. The director is responsible for all elements of the production, and has an opportunity to explore a particular style of theatre. The project is therefore a showcase for the kind of creative contribution the director will in the future offer the New Zealand professional theatre and related industries.


7:30pm, in the Basement Theatre, Te Whaea:
National Dance & Drama Centre, 11 Hutchison Road, Newtown, Wellington.
22nd of July to the 6th of August (no shows on Sundays).
Bookings online at 
– https://www.patronbase.com/_TOI/Productions/HMLT/Performances
Ticket prices: $20 ; $10 student standbys available from 30 minutes before show time (unless sold out)

If you require assistance with your booking, please email info@tewhaea.org.nz
or phone our office on 04-381-9250. https://www.patronbase.com/_TOI/Productions/HMLT/Performances  

Hamlet: David Young

Claudius: Luke Gumbley

Gertrude: Anya Tate-Manning

Ophelia: Lauren Gibson

Horatio: Hayden Frost

Laertes/Second Player: Theo Taylor

Polonius/Gravedigger: John Smythe

Ghost/First Player/Captain: Philip Ward

Rosencrantz/Priest: Todd Dixon

Guildenstern/Osric: Stephanie Soper

Marcellus/Third Player/Fortinbras: Jonathan Power

Set/Costume Designer: Margo Jangowska

Lighting Designer: Joseph Mahoney

Composer: Luke Di Somma

Production Manager: Janina Matthewson

Fight Choreography: Allan Henry 

Theatre ,

An understanding simple and unschooled

Review by Kiran Matthews 05th Aug 2011

In reviewing a faithful adaptation of any Shakespearean tragedy, without having so much as a basic grasp on Elizabethan vocabulary, one would expect a bewildering and foreign experience. I did, and for the first half-hour of Hamlet, that is exactly what I got. Curiously, this changed as the story progressed. You find that you can draw from the visceral emotion and tension that flows between the actors, what you cannot from their dialogue.

A fellow patron put it best, Hamlet feels completely foreign until “after some time, you tune into it”. Put less poignantly, it’s like being fourteen and stumbling upon pornography whose eastern-European country of origin you can’t pronounce, you aren’t really there for the dialogue. This isn’t to say that Melanie Camp’s Hamlet was in any way crude; any mature content was tastefully handled, sans an intentionally base (and very funny) scene introducing the touring players.

Doing away with a typical stage, the audience was seated in a single encircling row, resulting in a deeply intimate experience. Bearing more resemblance to a catwalk than an auditorium, the stage was further transformed by excellent lighting, courtesy of Joseph Mahoney and Tim Williams. Background music was also used to build tension and establish scenes, sometimes to great effect, though it would often fade away abruptly, giving a deflated feeling.

The cast more than made up for any minor technical shortcomings, particularly John Smythe who delivered Polonius’s intricate banter with the dexterity and rhythm of a stand-up comedian. Philip Ward’s portrayal of the Ghost of Hamlet’s Father was also stellar. Other memorable moments included a singing Ophelia, and the climactic fencing match between Hamlet and Laertes. Ultimately, this director’s Hamlet was unconventional yet satisfying. 
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News.


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A quirky Hamlet, but it grabs attention

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 01st Aug 2011

Nearly every production of Hamlet is a curate’s egg: Melnaie Camp’s is no exception. Set in the bleak Basement Theatre with the audience seated in a single U-shaped row, the play has an unusual intimacy.

Hamlet speaks part of “To be” squatting at the feet of one of the audience; later during the duelling scene there is a real sense of danger as Laertes and Hamlet’s swords flash close by.

The gloominess if the Basement is used to great effect at the start, which is unusual in itself as only Bernado’s “Who’s there?” speech of this famous opening scene is used as Marcellus (Jonathan Power) looks nervously about him.

There are oddities throughout the production: Ophelia never gives flowers to anyone and the play-within-the-play scene is a mix of vulgar farce in the prologue and amateurish acting, thought earlier the Player performs his Hecuba speech to Hamlet as if he were a professional actor about to appear at the court.

There’s a guitar accompaniment to Ophelia’s song, making it almost a performance rather than a mad woman singing, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are laden down with suitcases but they don’t do anything comic with them, and Hamlet mimes his odd behaviour behind Ophelia’s back while she is describing it to Polonius.

The intimacy of the production works well, though the acoustics of the space are not always the best, and there are drawbacks – we can see clearly that Claudius seems to react to Gertrude drinking the poisoned cup with unconcern as does Gertrude over Polonius’ death.

Theo Taylor as Laertes energises every scene he is in, as do Lauren Gibson as a strong, contemporary Ophelia, and John Smythe as an obsequious Polonius and an earthy gravedigger.

David Young gives an anguished, troubled portrait of Hamlet, full of passion and nervous intensity that is often dark and dangerous, as when he finds Claudius at his prayers.

All in all, an auspicious performance.
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A Hamlet for our times

Review by Michael Gilchrist 24th Jul 2011

If all poems are in some way about poetry, as Wallace Stevens insisted, then the same is true of plays. They are all some kind of answer to the question of how our thoughts and feelings are – or are not – reflected in our actions.  None more so, of course, than Shakespeare’s Hamlet. And that makes it a strangely appropriate, if unusually ambitious, choice for a young director in training at Toi Whakaari and Victoria University, to show what she has learned about drama. In the upshot, that ambition is more than justified.

Right from the start, as we descend into the bowels of Te Whaea, this stripped back story about a bright student returning home, to some bewilderingly wayward family behaviour, rings true.  The set is essentially the audience. The rest of the space is conjured through an excellent lighting design by Joseph Mahoney and a wonderful score by Luke di Somma. 

The director begins by trusting both to do their work, before the storm of words we know is coming. Darkness, silence, uncertainty surround us. What else can we do, when the lights come up but talk about it? For one of the things we learn from this salutary production is that soliloquy is the spirit of our age: the blog, the tweet, the facebook update. We think out loud now because we no longer have to think in silence. And this is captured perfectly in Melanie Camp’s direction.

The actors are close up and personal, really talking to an encircling audience that is itself just one individual deep. Yet this is not a recycling of that pesky seventies demand for participation. It’s quite natural just because it’s so – virtual. The relationship between those who do and those who watch is just right. Combine that with a Hamlet who can wrap his body around the verse that explores this very relationship, as David Young does, and you have something special.

Indeed, all the cast – and the casting – are excellent.  Anya-Tate Manning seems perfectly poised as a sensual somewhat aloof Gertrude whom Hamlet can easily transfer, as so many young men do with their mother, to his girlfriend.  Lauren Gibson as Ophelia takes us through an original and very convincing depiction of the double bind that drives her mad.

John Smythe is masterful as Polonius, fully nuanced as both father and civil servant. Hard to forget that moment in his farewell speech to Laertes when he rehearses one last time with his son how he must conduct himself in a quarrel. His ease with words is a vital balance in the scenes with Luke Gumbley as Claudius. The latter is the least at home in the Shakespearian idiom but brings a notable charisma to the role.

Theo Taylor shines as Laertes, harnessing phenomenal physical ability to real emotional veracity. All the ensemble playing is of a very high standard – and, as the play progresses, the command and consistency of Young in the central role becomes ever more impressive.

This director does so many things well – she trusts her elements, she sticks fast to what is at stake in every human situation and there is a real unity of interpretation: everyone involved is on the same page.  I’d suggest she could pay a little more attention to the way we use things to buffer thoughts, though. It is not just rosemary that is for remembrance. Rosencrantz (Todd Dixon) and Guildenstern (Stephanie Soper) are nicely costumed in their luggage, for example, but that luggage could also play a more concrete role – ultimately its emptiness contains their fate. Likewise, the arrangement of the court for the play within the play missed opportunities to structure out the complex relationships involved.

That is the challenge – how to keep structuring the interactions as the interactions become more disordered and unstructured. One way this is achieved throughout the play, however, deserves special mention. That is the integration of the score and the text. The emotional accuracy and continuity is superb.

Altogether this Hamlet is another reminder of how spoiled we are in Wellington. The central conception is spot on. Combine that with a young actor who is effortlessly on song right through the title role and we have a production that is bright in the middle and clear at the edges. A Hamlet for our times, full of promise for the future.
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News. 


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