Essential Theatre and Three Birds Theatre Present Enter Ophelia

Enter Ophelia is a totally reworked Hamlet that plucks Ophelia from the sidelines and places her centre-stage.

By Lois Maskiell

Enter Ophelia brings Essential Theatre and Three Birds Theatre together under the direction of John Kachoyan in a totally reworked Hamlet. Ophelia is plucked from the sidelines to take centre-stage in this production that references the famed work from which it springs while completely turning it on its head.

The Ophelia who enters this stage is neither distracted nor one to accept meekly her father’s ultimatums. Nor does she serve as a plot device appearing in only five of the twenty scenes of Shakespeare’s play. In Enter Ophelia, she’s the central figure whose dominant presence interrupts this plot of foul play between kings, fathers, sons and brothers.

Co-written by Candace Miles, Madelaine Nunn and Anna Rodway this production preserves Shakespeare’s heightened language, while adding many new additions; Gertrude’s stylised speech that describes Ophelia’s drowning is left intact, while inserted lude jokes and new instances of metatheatre prove the originality of these writers.

Photographs: Amanda Carr (top) Theresa Harrison (above)

This five-piece group’s wild and whirling words are delivered with vocal richness and pace that doesn’t falter from the first to final scene. They declare the greatness of Denmark unanimously, except for Ophelia, who doesn’t subscribe to the patriotic-pack mentality of these unquestioning men.

Anna Rodway as Ophelia plays the drowned innocent in a captivating performance as she lusts after nature and is fixated on feelings she can’t manage to articulate. Amanda LaBonte (Gertrude) is charismatic and commanding, covering her misgivings with booze and cigarettes. Sophie Lampel (Polonious) takes on mouthfuls of consonants with wit and control while son, Candace Miles’ (Laertes) physical theatre is bewitching and hilarious. Madelaine Nunn as Hamlet is piercing and amusing as she expresses love for Ophelia in violent bouts without ever bothering to hear her response.

This sharp production, manoeuvred by director John Kachoyan, synthesises words, images and choreographed transitions for maximum effect. In the intimate space of La Mama such transitions – Ophelia’s and Gertrude’s chess games particularly – create an enveloping presence.

It’s true depictions of Ophelia alter with changes in attitudes towards women and madness – so it’s only due that Ophelia’s character is interrogated in this modern reworking of Hamlet. Enter Ophelia wastes not a moment doing so, as it turns this notable play on its head in an entertaining and fantastical fashion.

Enter Ophelia plays at La Mama until 4 March.  Tickets can be purchased online and by calling the box office on 03 9347 6948.