Hurst Brings Hamlet into the 21st Century



Actor/director Michael Hurst is returning to his first love--theatre, and in particular Shakespeare--to stage his unique 21st Century version of the timeless classic Hamlet.

Hurst has in recent years become widely known for his portrayal of Iolaus in the international hit television series Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, and his directing of episodes of Xena: Warrior Princess, but his heart lies in theatre.

"Whenever I've reached a crossroads in my life and I've felt uncertain about what to do next, I've asked myself what it is that moves my heart, and I've always come back to theatre, and especially Shakespeare. I feel absolutely compelled to do this production of Hamlet," he says.

Hurst, a passionate and energetic interpreter of Shakespeare, has gone about bringing his vision to the stage in the way of an old-fashioned theatrical impresario--taking on the roles of producer, director and star.

He will play Hamlet, with exciting newcomer Anna Hewlett (The Rocky Horror Show) as Ophelia, and acclaimed actress Elizabeth Hawthorne (The Graduate, Spin Doctors) as Hamlet's lustful mother Gertrude.

Other cast members include David Aston as a cold and scheming Polonius and Ray Trickitt as Claudius, Hamlet's usurping uncle. Paul Barrett appears as Horatio, Hamlet's longtime devoted colleague, and Jason Hoyte and Jonathan Brugh (comedy duo Sugar & Spice) are cast as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern who, in this production, are ruthless opportunists with a flair for corruption.

Hurst directed and starred in a highly successful production of Hamlet 10 years ago at Auckland's iconic Watershed Theatre. It was critically acclaimed:

"Directing and playing a great Shakespearean role--a feat unprecedented in this city's professional theatre--is something of an actor's Everest. And it is a delight to report that Michael Hurst 'Knocks the bastard off' . . . he is light on his feet and sometimes brazenly cheeky. This is a sleek, slick and snappy reading, ravishingly designed, sumptuously costumed and revolving around a lithe and stroppy hero who is less a ditherer than a deeply tragic figure mired in an Oedipal swamp. It is a testimony to the maturity of Hurst's vision--most evident in Hurst's handling of the big soliloquies, which are delivered to the audience like a film maker's piece to camera. We thrill at 'to be or not to be'--because it, like the others, is done without ostentation and shows the character revealing his darkest recesses to us and to himself . . . a ripper of a Hamlet"--New Zealand Herald

"Hurst is predictably excellent . . . he brings the language to a pleasing level of comprehension . . . it is a triumph" --Sunday Star

Hurst says that this time he's bringing more experience to the role.

"Now, I'm 10 years older. I'm more in my craft and more mature in myself. I'm less afraid to expose my vulnerabilities, I suppose, than I was then because I feel I've got nothing to lose. You can play Hamlet forever because he just changes all the time. You can never truly 'pluck out the heart of his mystery'."

Hurst says the themes and feelings in Hamlet, even though it was written at the beginning of the 17th century, are just as relevant today. Hamlet's search for the truth in a corrupt world resonates with our modern dilemmas in a world on the brink.

The audience doesn't have to know the play to recognise the feelings, the thrills and the fears.

"Shakespeare wrote for real people. He wrote real things. We too often elevate the stuff to a level that doesn't relate to us. I'm certainly not saying that the poetry is unimportant. The poetry is everything. But Shakespeare's genius is that his poetry comes out of the mouths of real human beings. Let's face it, we know all these lines from Hamlet whether we know Hamlet or not.

"I think that the fear some people have of Shakespeare is born out of bad Shakespeare--that is, badly presented, badly done, badly taught.

"I'm focussing on the psychology. What really is going on with Hamlet and Ophelia? And what about Hamlet and his mother? It's about relationships. What's truth? What's honesty? What is madness and what isn't? And who are we to say what is sane and what isn't?

"I'm setting it in a world that has so much money, so much luxury, available to it, where there's that feeling that everything has been done, where everybody's looking for something else. And that makes someone like Hamlet really ask the questions."

Although Hamlet is a powerful tragedy, Hurst says it's also full of comedy. "There's lots of dark humour and Hamlet tips the wink to the audience the whole time."

Hurst warns that his production of Shakespeare's enigmatic masterpiece is not for the faint-hearted. Murder, revenge, the supernatural, lust, sexuality, violence, madness and mind-games form the background for high-octane performances in which every moment is balanced on a knife-edge and the stakes are life itself.

The stage is designed by award-winning designer John Verryt , the composer is Jason Smith, Judith Crozier is costume designer and Ross Joblin is producer.

The production company is The Large Group, a new partnership between Hurst and innovative theatre director Christian Penny, who is associate director for this production.

Sponsored by Creative New Zealand, Montana Wines, Weta Special Effects, alt.design and the production gratefully acknowledges the support of Brent Wootton.


Cast and Crew Director's Notes

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