ACTOR FULFILS PROPHECY
GOLD Coast-raised actor Josh McConville has finally fulfilled the prophecy of a Year 11 drama teacher, who predicted that one day the actor would perform Hamlet professionally.
McConville was handpicked by respected director Damien Ryan to portray Hamlet in Bell Shakespeare’s national tour of the iconic play, which comes to Queensland this week.
Performing it has brought back memories of his first encounter with Hamlet. That was when he performed the famous scene in act three, when Hamlet’s mother Gertrude accuses her son of offending his new stepfather Claudius.
McConville, 29, ran the scene for a drama exam in front of the class at Saint Stephen’s College, Coomera, in 2002. “I remember my drama teacher Sam Holmes telling me that I would have to perform that part professionally one day, and that thought has always stuck with me,’’ McConville says.
“At the time I was a bit indifferent to Hamlet, I wasn’t really old enough to understand the ins and outs and the intricacies and emotions.’’
This time around McConville has enjoyed getting stuck into the play and learning about his character, including five weeks of research for the biggest role of his theatre career.
“In the past week I locked myself in my room and spoke to no one and got out my old Olde English dictionary and really studied the play,’’ he says.
“Hamlet requires a lot of preparation and skill because you need to understand what you are saying ... so then you can convince the audience and that makes for good theatre.’’
Hamlet is set at the royal court of the newly crowned King Claudius. Prince Hamlet is deeply depressed by the sudden death of the previous monarch, his father, and the hasty remarriage of his mother, Queen Gertrude, to his uncle Claudius.
The ghost of his father appears to Hamlet informing him that he was murdered by Claudius, and calling upon him to avenge his death. Hamlet is paralysed by inaction, unsure whether to follow his duty to his father.
This Bell Shakespeare production is set in a contemporary Denmark, with Cold War overtones.
McConville says he did not have any preconceived ideas of playing the role but acknowledges it was harder than he expected, especially with the amount of lines he has to learn.
“I’ve tried to make the character my own,’’ he says.
“I’m looking at Hamlet as a guy in deep grief, he has just lost his father and I believe the most important character in the play is the ghost of his father. I think what it would be like if I lost my dad and then, if I saw his ghost.”
McConville has learnt much from the experienced director, Ryan, who has already staged several productions of Hamlet as well as performing the role himself.
“I had never officially met Damien until he cast me but he has an encyclopaedic know- ledge of Hamlet and has given me a lot of great advice,’’ he says.
“Hamlet is the only role that if you can pull it off as an actor you can almost do anything. When you are playing Hamlet you are really naked on stage.’’
McConville is on a fourstate, two-territory tour of Hamlet and he will perform the role more than 130 times including a six-week stint at the Sydney Opera House.
“I’m fortunate that the whole cast is super friendly and all very professional and experienced,” he says.
“We are like a travelling troupe of actors taking Hamlet to places they might not usually see a professional Shakespeare such as Toowoomba, Townsville and Mackay.’’
McConville was in his third year at NIDA when he was selected for an ensemble role in the Sydney Theatre Company production of Gallipoli in 2008. Since then he has become a Sydney Theatre Company regular, including starring with Cate Blanchett in Gross und Klein in 2011. He has already been slated for four STC productions next year.
“While growing up on the Gold Coast I never dreamt of performing at the Sydney Opera House,” he says.
I REMEMBER MY DRAMA TEACHER TELLING ME THAT I WOULD HAVE TO PERFORM THAT PART PROFESSIONALLY ONE DAY, AND THAT THOUGHT HAS ALWAYS STUCK WITH ME