Ophelia/Machine: Hamlet Who?

Shakespeare’s Hamlet is arguably his most frequently performed play, with Hamlet himself known as one of theatre’s most iconic leading men. The original text has been interpreted and reinterpreted throughout theatrical history, with big names, gender swaps and re-contextualisations providing fresh takes on the play.  

The most subversive and widely respected of these interpretations is Heiner Müller’s Hamletmachine. This 1977 play originally ran for seven and a half hours and explored themes of feminism and environment. The radical post dramatic take on the classic was critically acclaimed and has inspired further reinventions of Shakespeare and other classic texts.

Ophelia/Machine takes this reimagining in another direction, questioning the Ophelia narrative, and transposing her story into the modern day experiences of both the performers and created characters. The fragmented narrative traverses topics of the body, belonging, abuse, sex and death, leaving no stone unturned in what the female identity means today. This is the inaugural work of Ophelia/Machine Theatre, a new theatre company looking to explore the notions of the body in space and the texture of language.

Although the stage is littered with flowers and leaves, this piece focuses in on themes of feminism rather than ecology, with no other explicit links to Hamletmachine. A gorgeously diverse cast ensures a variety of perspectives on what it is to be female are represented, and each actor plays to their strengths. This devised piece gives each performer their time in the limelight, with each cast member having multiple monologues. Although this is a method of inclusive theatre making, it does become monotonous after a time. The occasional parts of physical theatre, duologues and group scenes provide much needed respite from this continuous stream of solos. The work would have been more engaging and effective in retaining audience attention if the monologues were less frequent, and interspersed with these scenes of difference.

Similarly, although the individual pieces are affecting and interesting they lack a kind of cohesion. The audience is directed from post dramatic and emotional recounts of trauma to naturalistic and comedic travel stories. Although a lack of overarching story is not necessarily negative on its own, this piece feels like a lot of ideas and individual works strung together without any solid connection. Despite this, each separate scene has light and shade, and are extremely strong as solo pieces.

Georgie Pender, Tombi Lloyd and Lucinda Ventimiglia are the standout performers, with varying strengths utilised to further highlight the excellent casting of the work. Pender has a strong grasp of emotional roles, holding nothing back in depicting strong, all encompassing emotions. Lloyd possesses a quiet strength on stage, holding a complete focus in the moment which renders her a powerful figure especially in ensemble scenes. But it is Ventimiglia who is particularly noteworthy. Despite the monologue heavy nature of the show, her pieces are instantly engaging. Well written, vibrantly told and the perfect balance between humorous and touching, her stories refocuses audience attention and are consistently strong in substance and delivery.

This work rises and falls, exploring many of the frustrations that surround the female existence. It explores the role of stories and representation in how we define ourselves, doing so through the inclusion of multiple voices and perspectives. Such was the breadth of ideas expressed, I came out of the theatre curious, sad, confused, angry, and ultimately gratified knowing this work is giving Ophelias a chance to be heard. 

Lucy Holz

Ophelia/Machine Theatre’s production of Ophelia/Machine ran from the 27th-29th of September at the Phoenix Youth Hub.

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