Hamlet Reflections: A Theatrical Journey
Last Saturday night saw the grand finale of St Andrew’s production of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Directed by the talented Mr Paul Eastway, a Drama teacher at SACS and former member of the Bell Shakespeare Company, and produced by Mrs Jess Chilton, the performance was of an incredible standard one might expect to witness in the grand rooms of Sydney’s Opera House. The maturity of each and every cast member and the panache with which the play was pulled off at Chatswood’s Zenith theatre was truly something to behold.
Running from Thursday March 8 – Saturday March 10, the play captivated audience members with each heartfelt soliloquy and each perfectly executed line of iambic pentameter. St Andrew’s English teacher, Mr Michael Sahlstrom summed up the unanimous feeling when he said, “I was on the edge of my seat; I cried for Ophelia. This is not a high school production, this is Hamlet." Meanwhile, Head of History and Director of Teaching and Learning, Mr Richard Ford, captured that unforgettable quality of the performance: “My thoughts this week keep returning to Paul Eastway and Jess Chilton’s production of Hamlet. What they managed to achieve with the students is truly incredible. I was spellbound by the tragedy that was unfolding on stage. I know others were reduced to tears.”
This is not bias speaking, but the words of a mesmerized audience, as they watched the students they know from classrooms and corridors transform on-stage into the heroes and heroines of Shakespeare’s seventeenth century tragedy. “I had the pleasure of attending [Hamlet] on Friday night,” said Deputy Head of School, Mr Graeme Kightley, “and cannot find the words that could possibly explain how wonderful and moving the experience was.”
Head of Drama, Ms Jane Simmons was congratulatory of her colleagues' work: “Paul Eastway has again worked his magic, supported by our own Jess Chilton and her terrific crew of helpers, in producing an absolutely amazing version of Shakespeare’s play. This is more than just seeing students hop up on stage and give it a shot. I was incredibly moved by it and some of the cast are outstanding.”
Perhaps one of the most remarkable aspects of the production was the impressive handle each actor had on what is considered to be some very complex Shakespearean language. As English teacher, Mrs Susan Wright has noted, “[The] actors knew what they were saying and why.” Year 12 student Molly Haddon, who played Queen Gertrude in the production has said, “From studying [Shakespeare], you kind of understand it a little bit, but it’s so different when you actually have to say the lines yourself because you have to find the meaning in it.” Molly’s peer and fellow cast member, Harry Welsh, who played King Claudius, attributes this to the extraordinary assistance of their Director, Mr Paul Eastway, stating that they couldn’t have done it without him.
Year 11 student Charlotte Riddle, who played Ophelia in the play, says her favourite scenes to act were those in which her character goes crazy. “Going from Primary School Drama all the way through to Shakespearean tragedy is huge,” she says, “[Hamlet] has some really intense emotions in it and to bring that out when you are sixteen makes you feel like you have really accomplished something good. It makes you feel more professional as an actor.” This was certainly something strongly felt by audience members in the stands as well. Mrs Wright reflects, “What a treat to be immersed in the predicaments of this amazing play as it effortlessly unfolded. The extremes of expression and emotion were so engaging and utterly credible. What a coup!”
“We’re incredibly thrilled with the way [Hamlet] was received by staff and parents, and with what the students themselves got out of it,” says Director Mr Paul Eastway. “For some of the cast to even hop up on a stage is a big thing. To even deliver one line for some of those students is a mountain to climb and they did it and they were phenomenal. They were such a professional cast.”
Producer Mrs Jess Chilton is equally enthusiastic: “I think [the cast members got] a real sense of personal satisfaction out of it; that they were able to conquer such a full-on text. And being backstage made the students really feel like professionals — they had proper dressing rooms with lights and a green room to warm up in. I think it really helped them to feel special about what they were doing. The hype backstage after that final show was intense.”
When asked about their favourites moments of the play, Mr Eastway and Mrs Chilton can’t choose just one, though Mrs Chilton does say, “I got shivers every time Aidan Davies did the ghost, even when I was backstage. And Rhiona Armont’s spiel about Hecuba was very powerful as well.” Mr Eastway adds, “I think they did extremely well across the whole play. Every night something new would come across in each of their performances and it was constantly changing and evolving as a performance. I think the whole thing was remarkable.”
Not only has the experience been beneficial for the students in terms of personal confidence and peer group morale, but it has also been a journey that will help them greatly in the HSC and IB examinations, especially in their studies of English and Drama, to which their extensive knowledge of Shakespeare’s great text will be invaluable. Mr Eastway expresses his gratitude for the support of the SACS English Department in bringing along all of Year 11 and Year 12 to watch the performance at Zenith Theatre. He says, “The students — the Year 12s in particular — keep coming up to us in the corridors to say how much they enjoyed it and to acknowledge the fact that they now have such an advantage, having seen the play rather than having to try and understand it straight off the page.”
Overall, St Andrew’s production of Shakepeare’s Hamlet was a very successful one, one which has been met with great praise and a whole host of fond memories for the cast and crew themselves. Mr Eastway and Mrs Chilton speak of how, despite all the hard work, they will miss it greatly, while Molly, Harry and Charlotte mention the Hamlet withdrawal symptoms they now experience, and the sporadic urges to recite their lines in the shower. Now all we can do though is to wait for the thrill of the next performance, though it will certainly be a tough one to beat.
Watch: The final behind scenes look at Hamlet.
Words: Rosie Dalton
Photography: Jack Toohey