Re-envisioning “håmlet” – a newer australian play from a previous iteration in Bondi Feast 2018, wasn’t easy, writes Antoinette Barbouttis.
The piece is a biographical convergence with Shakespeare, temporal and highly taboo. A revisit, with myself as performer, has only been accompanied with trepidation and night sweats. It’s also a costly, tiresome and a lonely process.
So, why revisit?
I could lie and say because Hamlet is about “grief”, and that I am deeply grieving the loss of my therapy dog. But that would be highly indulgent.
Actually, in its “newer” iteration, “hamlet” – a newer australian play is recycling the idea of rejection, a concept that originally fuelled the work. It is an externalisation of rejection, and in its overarching meta-concept, the literal actors’ and creatives’ rejection.
It examines, in its chaotic bricolage, hierarchies. And yet ironically, “håmlet” – a newer australian play challenges external power structures, oscillating between acknowledging its place as a work – disintegrating in theatrical purgatory and yearning for acceptance from a gatekeeper.
Can it be lifted from this state?
Without being dismal – the show is laced with self-deprecating humour – the answer is no. I’m often met with responses that the timing for “this kind of work” isn’t right, that it’s too “avant-garde”.
This answer is bolstered in the unveiling of Bell Shakespeare’s programming of Hamlet, with Hamlet performed by a female, while still being a man. In my deconstruction of the original text, this was a given. I was to play Hamlet, genitalia and all. Although among the multi-layered, zeitgeist responses to Shakespeare’s Hamlet this gender-bending choice is trumped.
Also, I am a designer. By the training standards of NIDA, I shouldn’t act, nor should I write (ironically, NIDA trained me to do the inverse). This survival pathway has set me aside for a tiresome career, destined perhaps to never to be taken seriously in any field, and like the work itself, ostracised to the fringe of society.
This is what “håmlet” – a newer australian play directly posits. And like the original Shakespeare text, the work delves into contemporary social cleansing: the state’s response to mental health.
So why, if the work is written in hard text about disappearing as a result of deep systemic problems, should it be programmed anywhere else?
Maybe it shouldn’t. Maybe its self-awareness prophesises its demise, but for “håmlet’s” re-working, a hilarious cast gives life to the dying work, as it is in equal parts an intended nightmare and comedy. It challenges to work the audience to be complicit in its questions, while simultaneously (and hopefully) keeping them entertained.