Subversion of 'Hamlet' an amusing ride

Barbara Frame
Barbara Frame

Ophelia Thinks Harder
Globe Theatre
Thursday, September 12


"I just want to be a person!'' wails Ophelia.

That shouldn't be too hard, but it is. Her father, Polonius, advises against intellectual exertion. The Queen tries to give her a style makeover. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern baffle her with convoluted, nonsensical philosophies. Hamlet seems interested in her reproductive function, then suggests she's a witch. None of this represents a direction poor exasperated Ophelia wants to go in.

Jean Betts' (and William Shakespeare's) Ophelia Thinks Harder has become a New Zealand classic, cheerfully subverting Hamlet and putting Ophelia centre stage. Mostly in present-day English, it happily plunders not just Shakespeare's original but his other plays and the sonnets for dialogue, on an as-required basis.

Everything that happens is funny: the plot is wildly inventive, chronology is abandoned, and gender identity is all over the place. Even many of the costumes, by Sofie Welvaert and Quentin Francis, are funny. Joan of Arc unexpectedly pops in, as do three witches taking a break from Macbeth.

All members of the 12-strong cast, mostly experienced Globe regulars, work hard and well, and some play more than one part.

Extra-special mention must be made of Rosie Dunn's performance as Ophelia. She's on stage for most of the two hours, and quickly gains the audience's sympathy with charm and humour.

Cheyne Jenkinson is an energetically bratty Hamlet. Helen Fearnley, in a spectacularly ridiculous outfit, is imperious as the drama-queen Queen. And Laura Wells, as Ophelia's maid, constantly raises the comic temperature with her expressive features, great timing and a mad scene of her own.

Director Lynne Keen adroitly balances the play's feminist intent and its gleeful hilarity. On Thursday night a smallish audience (about 20 people) loved it, and it deserves much larger houses.


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