It is the 1980s. King Hamlet has died suddenly. A month later, his sister – Claudia – is crowned monarch and the divided kingdom of Elsinore is in upheaval. That is the contention in an immersive theatrical experience at Malthouse Theatre, which draws inspiration from Shakespeare’s explosive Hamlet.
We – the audience – are theatrically masked and cloaked in black, before being led into a room where the deceased king’s son – also named Hamlet – confronts Ophelia (Polonius’ daughter and Laertes’ sister), professing his love for her. Apart from the “characters” in this production I have already mentioned, the other is Getrude (King Hamlet’s widow and Hamlet’s mother). Not surprisingly, as he has passed on, we don’t get to see King Hamlet, although there are plenty of paintings/photos of him.
Intrigue, corruption, love and revenge abound. There are conspiracies aplenty. Plotting runs thick. Who did what to whom? Was the king murdered? There is no love lost between Hamlet and Claudia. Elsinore is highly dependent on its tree felling and wood logging. Woodcutters are in uproar. Many workers are dying on the job and they want to ensure their safety and security. Beyond that, it is left to us to figure out.
Over the next 90 minutes we are invited to silently walk around – down hallways and alleyways, and into a succession of rooms and spaces – at our leisure. I am told there are 37 separate spaces and I managed to spend time in 20 of them. Without spoiling all of the surprises, these rooms are filled with “stuff” that is a pointer to life in the goldfish bowl that is the kingdom.
On the walls of a child’s room is the family tree. A large pig sits in the middle of a dining room table, with many little pig figurines also nearby. In fact, porkers are a constant theme apparent in a number of rooms. There is what appears to be an outdoor play area, with graffiti surrounding it. A greenhouse behind plastic sits adjacent to a single bed, behind which are mysterious polaroids featuring triangles. And on it goes. Make of it what you will. I found myself looking for clues.
A great deal of effort has gone into establishing a series of evocative spaces. Importantly, six actors “perform” (there are two alternating casts) as we do our thing. There’s a great deal of finger pointing and blame shifting going on. It gets quite vocal. Matthew Lutton is responsible for the concept and direction, the text is the combined effort of Kamarra Bell-Wykes, Ra Chapman and Matthew Lutton, while set design is the work of Dale Ferguson and Marg Horwell. Everything comes to a head and the truth is revealed in a finale in the largest space.
I really appreciate immersive theatre because it encourages freedom of thought and feeling … and so it is here. You know something is afoot, but you don’t quite know what. Once you’ve drawn your own conclusion, the final act reveals whether or not your instincts are correct. But, in reality, this is about the journey – one of discovery – rather than the destination. I applaud Malthouse Theatre for putting on such a tantalising offering. Because the Night is playing until 16th May, 2021.
Other reviews you might enjoy:
- Hamlet (QSE) – theatre review
- William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (Abridged) – theatre review
- The Other Place (Theatre Works) – theatre review
Alex First is a Melbourne based journalist and communications specialist. He contributes to The Blurb on film and theatre.