Hamlet at Elsie’s Bar | Sunday Observer

Hamlet at Elsie’s Bar

Slick writing, impeccable direction and an ever so talented cast, Hamlet at Elsie’s Bar has surely raised the ‘Bar’ for original Sri Lankan theatre productions.

The production was held at the Lionel Wendt Auditorium and opened on Friday October 4, 2019 and closed on October 8.

Written by the man behind many iconic productions in Sri Lanka (Pusswedilla, Freddy, Arsikland) Feroze Kamardeen has outdone himself. Unlike previous plays of his, the production was restricted to just 1 Hour and 30 minutes which allowed for a more energetic experience overall. Director Sashane Perera (Fun Home) has most certainly put his name right to the top alongside some of the big name directors in the island with his exceptional skill and creativity elevating the production to the next level. This engrossing story was a clear-cut flashback. The show begins with a “breaking the fourth wall” moment with Rosie Crantz and Gilda Stern addressing the audience in a short skit incorporating the general announcement you would hear before a production in a warm yet witty way.

The comedy takes its course with countless amounts of humour, wit, and zest which set up a stellar backdrop against which the Shakespearean tragedy Hamlet was created.

In a plot twist, the spotlight shines on Claude (Barman), who plans and succeeds in killing his brother Osric (Owner of Elsie’s Bar) and then marries his wife Ophelia.

Subsequently, just as in Shakespeare’s tragedy Hamlet, a mock play is then enacted in the Bar to find out the culprit.

Meanwhile, Layertee, a village girl who is in love with Horatio (Son of Osric and Ophelia) pushes Horatio to wed her as soon as possible. However, Rosie Crantz and Gilda Stern, the waitresses of the bar who also shows interest in Horatio. This play however ends differently from that of the tragedy of Shakespear’s Hamlet.

It ends with the death of Claude and the untimely ends of Rosie Crantz and Gilda Stern who were killed by Horatio himself when they were caught eavesdropping.

From the get-go Hamlet at Elsie’s Bar was an attention-grabbing production full of energy and wit, so much so that the audience had a difficult time NOT applauding.

The Bar was basically the entire setting of the play (Duh! Given its name it’s no surprise) in which the actors and actresses immersed themselves completely creating a real experience, an exciting and cheerful bar with a mixture of individuals from all walks of life. The overall set looked complicated and tough to set up for, a theatrical point of view however as a member of the audience, the set was exquisite. The perfect ambience of an English Bar with little details was recreated through the set. The bar at the bottom and a wooden-cottage like structure for the staff and owners at the top, (to reside in). Elsie’s Bar also was remarkable in maintaining and representing the background of the character marked by remarkable costume designs which also represented the period the play was set in.

 The script succeeded in included the musicality to the words of Shakespeare. Speeches were much more fluid, exceedingly clever, and the words of the songs were set to popular tunes from pop music to show tunes and back and have also managed to make it familiar though it was a first for us all and quite cheery. Hats off to the music directors Tehani Tissera and Amarsha Tissera.

Hats off also to the Director for carefully blending the many ingredients of a Shakespearean-type atmosphere by carefully choosing a well-balanced cast with almost everyone contributing and playing their part perfectly. But what made the play delightfully accessible and enjoyable was that the key roles were delicately balanced, with no single character overshadowing the other. Each and every one of them certainly enjoyed and immersed themselves in their role and carried out their parts with great intelligence. The music throughout the play was done extremely well with a live band comprising of talented, skillful and renowned musicians led by Violinist/ Pianist and Singer Tehani Tissera (Music Director).

The star of the play Will Shakes (Demintha Fonseka) and definitely the star of the entire production, Demintha has shown why he is a force to be reckoned with in the theatre industry. A young and upcoming talent and certainly the future of theatre in Sri Lanka. Demintha’s performance was exceptional and his vocals were absolutely stunning and pitch perfect.

The comical duo– Gilda Stern (Christina VanCuylenberg) and Rosie Crantz (Daniella Perera) were absolutely smashing and were somewhat ‘the life of the play,’ the two love-sick barmaids at Elsie’s Bar kept the energy and humor going right throughout. Their superb acting matched their incredible voices with well done harmonies. Nathan Imboden too played his role as Shakespeare well - with much humour, yet dignified command.

His finely-chiselled features and compelling characteristics, his carriage and gestures, were all reminiscent of a bygone era. His extraordinary voice captivated us all, as did his dance movements. I have little doubt that we will be seeing a lot more of him within the thespian circles of Colombo.

Another pair who performed exceptionally well were Christopher Marlowe (Avishka De Alwis) and Francisco (Sanjeewa Weerasinghe) whose witty performances kept audiences in absolute laughter right throughout. The two had great chemistry whenever together on stage and were an absolute joy to watch. Witty yet warm.

This production was certainly like no other, and hopefully, the first of many originals to come into the Sri Lankan theatre sphere. Fabulous!