SECOND AGE Theatre Company come to the Town Hall with a sleek new production of Shakespeare’s Hamlet directed by Aoife Spillane-Hinks, one of the brightest young directors in contemporary Irish theatre and a graduate of NUI, Galway.
Hinks has immersed herself in finding the right actors, the right narratives and the right look, to make this production truly her own. Playing the title role in the play is young talented actor Conor Madden, who is also causing a stir in the theatre world.
Madden’s distinct physical and impressive stage presence will bring an individuality and edge to the role in this Second Age production where he is joined on stage by a stellar cast that includes some of Ireland’s most experienced talent such as Frank McCusker, Jane Brennan, Darragh Kelly, David Heap, Aonghus McAnally, Peter Daly and Noelle Brown together with some fresh young talent such as Anna Shiels McNamee, Fergal Titley, and Mark Fitzgerald.
The production marks another significant milestone in Hinks’ burgeoning directorial career. Since graduating from NUIG’s MA in Drama and Theatre Studies she has worked with Rough Magic, as part of their developmental SEEDS programme, served as assistant director to Tom Murphy in his revival of The Sanctuary Lamp and directed David Mamet’s Boston Marriage at the Gate Theatre during last year’s Dublin Theatre Festival.
It was while she was working at the Gate that Hinks got to know Second Age’s Alan Stanford which led to her being invited to direct Hamlet. As she talks about her staging of Hamlet she speaks glowingly of Stanford’s role as a mentor.
“Alan has been an unbelievable mentor,” she says. “He was constantly saying ‘it’s your production, make whatever choices with it that you want’. At the same time he was always completely available and generous with his advice or suggestions if I approached him about that; and not just with me, he was there for everyone in the company.”
So what are the kinds of choices Hinks has made in her engagement with Hamlet?
“What strikes me first about the play is that it’s very entertaining,” she observes. “It has all the ingredients of a great thriller, there’s familial intrigue, murder, betrayal, sex, all of that. But it’s also not simply about good and evil it’s about people who are deeply human.
“Shakespeare is remarkable in the way that he will show even the bad characters, like Claudius for instance, as complex individuals with a whole range of emotions like fear, confusion, anger and so on.
“Shakespeare shows us all these characters who are caught up within a terrible political system and he looks at how people get corrupted by power, and politics and war.”
Hinks’ point about the complexity of each character is borne out by her approach to Polonius, who is often depicted as a doddery, somewhat comical old fool.
“Our approach throughout the rehearsals was always to test any interpretation against the basic story of the play,” she notes. “There is comedy to be found in Polonius but he is also a very adept political animal; he is very aware that Hamlet’s relationship with Ophelia could jeopardise his relationship with the King and he wants to avoid that risk.
“Darragh Kelly, who plays Polonius, can be a very funny actor when required and there are laughs there but we always came back to what is it that the character is really saying so we arrive at a rounded interpretation.”
Hinks goes on to say what prompted her to cast rising star Conor Madden in the title role.
“I first worked with Conor when I was directing Caryl Churchill’s Serious Money for Rough Magic’s SEEDS. What struck me about him then was his acting intelligence, his deep sense of play, his physical presence and youthful energy.
“I think these are qualities that are central to Hamlet the character. Hamlet is young, a college student and it’s like he becomes an adult over the course of the play. Conor has the skills to bring us on that journey with him.”
Under Hinks’ thoughtful and imaginative direction this promises to be an arresting and heady take on one of the greatest tragedies of all time.
Hamlet runs at the Town Hall from Tuesday March 29 to Friday April 1. Tickets are available from the Town Hall on 091 - 569777 and www.tht.ie