Court One, Christchurch

08/04/2006 - 26/05/2006

Production Details

By William Shakespeare

The Court Theatre is undertakes one of the theatre’s most substantial artistic projects: the contemporaneous staging of Shakespeare’s masterpiece Hamlet and Tom Stoppard’s comedy Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead. These full-scale works alternate on the Court One stage over a 7 week season beginning Saturday 8 April.

The Court Theatre last staged these shows together in 1980, and is believed to be the only theatre company in New Zealand ever to have done so, despite the works appearing together regularly overseas. The Court Theatre’s Chief Executive Philip Aldridge, is excited by the undertaking.

“This is a classic pairing of two complimentary and invigoratingly contrasting plays. It is a colossal undertaking for the company, who must simultaneously rehearse and perform Shakespeare’s greatest tragedy with Stoppard’s comedic masterpiece. Fans of ‘Shakespeare in Love’, Stoppard’s wildly witty film script, as well as all lovers of English literature, language and drama, will be greatly entertained.”

Court Theatre visitors will find director Peter Evans’ approach to Hamlet refreshing. Christchurch-educated Evans is adamant that editing is crucial when staging Hamlet for a modern audience.

“Like our production of King Lear in 2003 we are focusing on the strength of The Court Theatre stage which is its intimacy. The family unit is at the heart of the tragedy, and in preparing the script to a lean and punchy two-and-a-half hours it is their relationships that are our core focus,” explains Evans.

“I’m thrilled to be back at The Court with so many of the cast from King Lear, along with some very exciting additions. Our Hamlet, Gareth Reeves, is an actor of great depth, who in his short but packed career to date has proved himself ready for this extraordinary role. It is a privilege to direct Hamlet and an enormous challenge pairing it with Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead“, he adds.

The Court Theatre’s Chief Executive Philip Aldridge concludes, “Whilst the stories of Hamlet and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead are inextricably linked, they are at opposite poles of the theatrical repertoire – one a tragedy, the other a comedy. The opposing moods of the two shows couldn’t be more diverse”. This promises a truly unique theatrical experience for everyone involved, whichever side of the curtain you’re on”.

DIRECTOR                                          Peter Evans
SET & COSTUME DESIGNER         Tony Geddes
COSTUME CO-DESIGNER               Pamela Jones
LIGHTING DESIGNER                     Chris O'Mahony

HAMLET                                             Gareth Reeves
ROSENCRANTZ                                 Teodor Surcel
GUILDENSTERN                               Anna McPhail
CLAUDIUS & GHOST                        Gavin Richards
GERTRUDE                                         Rima Te Wiata
POLONIUS & GRAVEDIGGER        Martin Howells
LAERTES / PLAYER                          Simon London
OPHELIA                                             Emmeline Hawthorne
HORATIO / PLAYER                         Matt Wilson
THE PLAYER                                      Carol Smith
MARCELLUS / OSRIC / ALFRED   Kristian Lavercombe
PRIEST / PLAYER                             Conan Mountain

PROPERTIES                           Nigel Kerr
STAGE MANAGER                  Annabel Butler
OPERATOR                               Loki Stanley
WARDROBE                              Pamela Jones 
                                                     Emily Thomas 
                                                     Alistair McDougal 
                                                     Deborah Ward
SET CONSTRUCTION            Nigel Kerr 
                                                     Maurice Kidd
                                                     Richard van den Berg 
                                                     Richard Daem 
                                                     Nicki Evans

Original music performed by

Voice                                       Ballantyne Haines
Renaissance Lute                   Dr Jonathan Le Cocq
Cornetto                                  Sarah Wilson
Violin                                      Lucienne Shelley
Recorders                                Hamish Oliver
Percussion                              Mark La Roche

Supplementary music
Beethoven       Sonata Op. 27 No. 2 ("Moonlight")
Dowland         The King of Denmark's Galiard
                        Mistresse Nichols Almand

Theatre ,

3hrs, incl. interval

A sense of space and pace

Review by Ron Kjestrup 13th May 2006

It is too often forgotten that Shakespeare wrote entertainments. Thankfully, this production of Hamlet at Court Theatre is entertaining.

It is a pleasure to see the stage at the Court stripped to the back wall. Cumbersome sets are replaced by cleverly used and attractive moveable curtaining. Together with an expertly devised sound track the flowing scene changes bring a sense of space and pace from which the production benefits enormously. Given room to move the actors are able to concentrate on character and Hamlet is all about character.

Director, Peter Evans, has divided the cast into goodies and baddies. It’s a good choice and the costuming acts as a nice counterpoint to the characters’ situations. Hamlet and his friends – given freedom of movement in modern dress – flail in indecision. The Elsinore court insiders are restricted and bound in Elizabethan-style finery. Indeed, Rima Te Wiata’s Gertrude can barely move – a powerful doll like character trapped by her circumstance.

The character arc of Hamlet himself is, of course, the core of the play. Gareth Reeves captures the tension between Hamlet’s wish to "sleep" and the need for revenge but doesn’t dwell on the often overplayed procrastination aspect of his character. The production recognises this as a tale of revenge and although Hamlet criticizes himself for the delay the actor (and character) knows that revenge takes time and planning – or we wouldn’t have story to watch. The interest is in watching Hamlet justify his actions even when – born as they are of his distress – he acts stupidly. Hamlet’s response to the accidental killing of Polonius is a fine example of an actor discovering a fresh and enlightening aspect in a well explored role. 

The standout performances in this production are Martin Howells’ Polonius and Gravedigger. It is character acting par excellence and a text book lesson on portraying the life and intent inherent in Shakespeare’s (or any author’s) words. Te Wiata’s Gertrude also impressed. She portrays a woman in denial and determined to mask her vulnerability in a haughty status game. Her response to Hamlet’s abuse is as much about the possibility of exposure as it is about a mother’s distress. My only quibble is that her glorious costume should have had wheels. I was also delighted by Rosencrantz and Guildenstern – an evil Tweedledee and Tweedledum pairing with an emphasis on twee.

I have only one major complaint. My colleague on this site mentions the rapier poisoning scene. He is quite right. There is always a need to cut Hamlet but in the final scene the point is that we – the audience – know the sword and wine are poisoned. I don’t know Evans’ intention in removing that piece of information but it’s part of the contract with the audience that we are called upon to cry (inwardly) "behind you, behind you" at the appropriate moment. It’s part of the entertainment. (See the forum topic, A director’s role, rights and responsibilities.)


Make a comment

Mixed bag; much cut

Review by Stephen Austin 09th May 2006

When a director states in his programme notes that they "have not harboured a burning desire" to direct a piece of theatre, I am always somewhat dubious as to how well the piece will carry to its audience.  In the case of Hamlet – being the cornerstone of the English theatrical canon – I was especially sceptical of the intentions of the production from the outset.

Peter Evans has chosen to forego much of the political subtext inherent in the play and set it in a periodless theatrical workshop space, allowing his actors much free-reign over their characters and concentrating on the relationships central to the story.  This gave a sense of Brechtian timelessness and was intended to help to carry the themes between this and Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, which plays in repertory with Hamlet.

This is not always successful as the younger actors seem to have decided to play their roles here in an understated, ‘method’ manner while the older members of the cast declaim many of their lines and seem quite cold.  This appears to be a conscious decision of the production underlined through costuming: older cast dressed more traditionally in breeches and Elizabethan finery while Hamlet, Ophelia and Horatio are dressed somewhat modern, perhaps to emphasise the age barrier that throws the court into such turmoil in the first place.

Performances were a rather mixed bag here.  Gareth Reeves was a solid Hamlet; intense, physical and well nuanced, dressed in a very slick, professional black shirt and tie.  He maybe a little too young for the role, but he certainly made up for this with the sheer weight of his own personality shining through.

Martin Howells’ Polonius/Gravedigger was a standout in this production.  He found more comedy than I had ever dreamed possible in both roles and was virtually unrecognisable in the latter. Emmeline Hawthorne acquitted herself well as Ophelia, but the settings of her songs in the latter stages of madness were very repetitive and jarring with the rest of her characterisation. 

While Gavin Richards did find much depth in the character of Claudius, I found his heightened diction and tendency to proclaim even the most mundane lines somewhat grating.  And poor Rima te Wiata seemed lost and struggling physically in a huge hoop skirt that made her resemble an oversized china-doll, which seemed to affect her performance.  She was very distant throughout and her Gertrude was very cold.

There was much cutting done to the script, to the extent that we as audience were expected to know beforehand many of the developments in the plot.  This is fine for a well-read audience, but when a scene as important as the poisoning of the rapiers for the climactic duel between Hamlet and Laertes is cut, it takes much of the tension from the final scene as the audiences’ knowledge is somewhat blunted to the impending bloodbath.  This production seemed a text-message version of the Bards greatest work.  (See the forum topic, A director’s role, rights and responsibilities.)

The decision to stage both Hamlet and Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead together is always a brave one.  Both plays feed each other significantly when staged in a repertory fashion and have a lot to offer an audience.

(See also Stephen Austin’s review of Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead.)


Make a comment

Wellingon City Council
Aotearoa Gaming Trust
Creative NZ
Auckland City Council