Hamlet @ The Pop-up Globe
Thursday, October 10, 2019
The Pop-up Globe is a Shakespearian experience like no other. Founded in Auckland by artistic director Dr Miles Gregory in 2015, Pop-up Globe gives modern audiences a glimpse at what it might have been like to witness a performance of the Bard’s work in the 1600s in the original Globe.
It is an impressive structure and there was a buzz of energy in the air as the groundlings’ pit begins to fill. Greeted by a beautiful three-storied set complete with doorways and balconies, the highest level saw two musicians, Oscar West and Alec Steedman, play the audience in and bring the space to life.
This performance of Hamlet was wonderful, a perfect adaptation for modern audiences boasting a dynamic blend of the original text with contemporary embellishments. The actors clearly understood the text which added so much detail and meaning to the lines. Something that may surprise those going to see this famous tragedy, was just how funny it was. The duality between comedy and tragedy, particularly in the first act, was marvelous as the cast danced smoothly back and forth between the two.
The stagecraft on display was excellent. The way characters flowed on and off stage to transition between scenes was seamless and never dragged the play down. Of particular note was how the company executed the famous ghost scenes (played by Hugh Sexton), using everything in their bag to create a supernatural experience. Another stunning moment was when the Player Queen (Clementine Mills) let down her hair and the troupe generated wind on stage causing her hair to fly about.
The costumes, designed by Hannah Lobelson, are some of the best you’ll see. A couple of the best items were the leather cloak worn by Horacio that seemed to flow like silk, and the stunning royal attire of Queen Gertrude.
There were so many standouts in this production. Asalemo Tofete as Polonius was hilarious, commanding the space and bringing the character to life and the audience to tears. Bryony Skillington and Salesi Le’ota played multiple funny roles but were best as the bawdy and misbehaving Rosencrantz (Le’ota) and Guildenstern (Skillington), who were a perfect foil for Hamlet (Adrian Hooke). When the cracks began to show for King Claudius, Max Loban brought an intensity of emotion that showed the king to be an ordinary man, worthy of sympathy despite all the wrong he had done. It was really powerful to be made to feel for a character whose actions had made him so unlikeable. Summer Millett was an awesome Ophelia and her descent into madness was haunting. On the topic of madness, let’s talk about Hamlet. Adrian Hooke was exceptional. He brought such lightness and whimsy to the character. He made him real. He countered the darkness within Hamlet with boisterous energy. It fundamentally changed how this reviewer will perceive the character forever.
The experience from the middle galley was great, the venue’s acoustics are designed so that when actors turn their backs and walk away their voices get louder… very cool. In the groundlings you get the closest view and are connected with the work on another level, with the performance at times spilling off into the audience. However, wear comfortable footwear as you will be standing the whole show! Don’t let that put you off though, the experience is thoroughly worthwhile.
Director David Lawrence has crafted a show with his team that brings the beauty and complexity of Shakespeare to a modern audience. The best Shakespeare around. This is further facilitated by the amazing venue, only let down by the fact that the shipping containers out of which they ran the bar was not decorated with any Elizabethan flavour to match the resplendent Globe it services. While the limitations of a pop-up venue are understandable, this did break the fantasy somewhat.
The Pop-up Globe is in town for six weeks, with four shows (Hamlet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Measure for Measure and Twelfth Night) running concurrently. I loved Hamlet and look forward to seeing all the others before the Globe packs up late November.