Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 15, No. 13. July 17, 1952
"Hamlet" Re-Hammed — Varley Plays the Gazelle
Varley Plays the Gazelle
Possibly the most refreshing aspect of the Welling-ton Repertory's production of "Hamlet" last week was the complete absence of any dependence upon the conventional Shakespearean production routine which tends to make all such interpretations alike. The producer, Richard Campion, also managed successfully to avoid the insidious influence of Lawrence Olivier's film version of this play.
Peter Varley, the leading actor, attempted with remarkable success a new interpretation of "Malvolio" in Ngaio Marsh's production of "Twelfth Night" last year. His translation of the part of "Hamlet" was similarly unconventional. Instead of the usual brooding, indecisive Hamlet he portrayed a highly-strung, nervously-tensed character, with bat-like white hands, addicted, at times, to leaping like a young gazelle in the mating season around the turrets and battlements of grim Elsinore. At best, as in the play-within-a-play scene, he was magnificent; at worst he behaved like an overwrought child).
As a simple and unsophisticated Ophelia Robin King was near-perfect, especially in her competent handling of the scene where Ophelia is overcome with grief at the loss of Hamlet and the death of her father.
The rest of the cast were not convincing. They carried the play along but contributed nothing to it. This may have been a deliberate toning down of the minor parts by the producer in order to highlight the central figure, but if it was, Judging by the performance. I fail to see any justification for it. Incidentally, the opening scene, which has been described by T. E. Eliot as the most well constructed opening of any play, was horribly reminiscent of Bud Abbot and Lou Costello in some of their curious adventures with Frankenstein.
The sepulchral-voiced spirit vividly reminded me of the legendary Dutch translation of the line "Hamlet, I am thy father's ghost"—"Omlet, ich bin der Poppers Spook."
It has always struck me as a curious fact that a group of actors should struggle for a whole evening, in this case four unabridged hours, to produce a certain atmosphere and effect only, as soon as that atmosphere is achieved, to ring down the curtain and then pull it up again on a dutiful line of simpering, leering actors. Any feeling that might have been created is torn to [unclear: breds] in a bombardment of flowers and applause. The Repertory, which prides itself on being up-to-date, could well take a lesson from the more modern English theatres which have eliminated this antiquated custom.
As a whole, to put it bluntly, the essential "guts" of the play was lacking. Despite remarkable feats of lighting, set and stage design, which reduced delay to a minimum there seemed to be no linkage of action. The presentation divided the play into an unrelayed aeries of events There was no apparent development of theme and ideas because the pace was too uniform and unvaried. As a result there appeared to be no real reason for [unclear: Ophelia's] madness or for Hamlet's "To be, of not to be" [unclear: soliliquy]. These incident came and went in the play like cars on an assembly line with no inkling given that here was the turning point of the play, perhaps the whole crux of the situation. Because no salient points were highlighted, the grave-digger's scene could have been Just as significant as the death of Ophelia, and it was certainly morn memorable.