Ophelia Thinks Harder
Jean Betts is well known as an actor, director and playwright in New Zealand but less so in the UK. And that’s a pity because her Ophelia Thinks Harder is the most grown up, clever – and very thoughtful – play I’ve seen in a long time. Full marks to Sedos for staging it with such aplomb – and under such difficult circumstances. It was all set to go in March 2020 and we all know what happened then. Now it is reborn as the opening show in Sedos’s post-pandemic season.
We’re in Hamlet – obviously. Ophelia (Natalie Harding-Moore) is mourning her mother and thinking hard about a lot of things such as how women should be defined. The play is for her a journey of discovery as we work, more or less, through the plot of Hamlet with lots of spin, quirks and re-roling as the characters we thought we knew all morph into something else along with other characters such as the ghost of Joan of Arc (Freya Thomas – good), three old women who are actually Macbeth’s witches and various maids. There’s Horatio (Rhydian Harris), kind, reasonable and sympathetic to Ophelia in more ways than one. Polonius (David Pearson) is hideously self interested and repugnant. Danielle Capretti’s Queen, who operates the King as a glove puppet is slimy and as unmotherly as she could be.
And all this uses Shakespeare’s language woven in and out of modern English and asides. The Shakespeare goes way beyond Hamlet. There are witty borrowings from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The Taming of the Shrew, King Lear, Romeo and Juliet. Macbeth, the sonnets and probably lots more I missed as the dialogue sailed past. The script is as good as anything by Stoppard. It’s fiercely feminist with a lot of profoundly shocking things said by male characters. So much so that Sedos have placed a warning notice near the auditorium entrance.
It is, then, a challengingly ambitious play for a non-professional company but this is Sedos directed by Matt Bentley and it comes off very successfully. It makes, for example, excellent use of the Bridwell’s big performing space fading back into the shadows where clothes rails stand. Harding-Moore’s Ophelia begins as a rather wooden heroine. Two and a half hours later she’s bouncing with new-found confidence as, disguised as Osric, she joins the Players (who have, by the way, a lot of fun with sending up theatre. actors and the industry) and sets off for a new life. Harding-Moore is a fine actor in a huge role who really makes you think about the plight of women at all points in history.
And I’ve left Josh Beckman as Hamlet until last because he is outstanding – snarling, posturing, dominating. Even the curl of his fingers is expressive. His (sort of) closet scene with Capretti is a tour de force. He is an actor who changes the dynamic on stage the moment he appears.
Definitely one to catch if you can. Or if you can’t then at least read the play.
First published by Sardines: https://www.sardinesmagazine.co.uk/review/ophelia-thinks-harder/