In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, it is the title character who gets to voice the words “Sleep. Perchance to dream” while he is considering committing suicide because of growing problems in his life.
But it is his girlfriend, Ophelia, who takes her own life by drowning herself in a pond. As a woman, she has been increasingly ignored by Hamlet and bullied by others around her, with the troubles she encounters becoming more depressing.
Newcastle actor Alex Travers, concerned little seemed to have changed in the treatment of women by many males since Shakespeare’s time, last year put together a one-woman 25-minute play, Sleep. Perchance to Dream, which was staged as part of a Tantrum Youth Arts trilogy presented at the annual Crack Theatre Festival. The reactions of audience members, who soundly applauded the work and discussed it with Travers after each performance, led her to develop an hour-long version which will premiere at Newcastle’s Civic Playhouse on August 29.
The enlarged Sleep, Perchance to Dream, has three Ophelias, played by Alex Travers, Amy Morris and Karen Burns, who take very different journeys through life but each find themselves in difficult circumstances because they are women.
The production’s director, Danielle Asquith, notes that audience members won’t need to be familiar with Hamlet to be engaged by and enjoy the women’s stories as they have many lighter moments. “While it’s a dreamlike world they live in, watchers will find it very different, exciting and thought-provoking,” she said.
Travers adds the play will challenge perceptions about male-female relationships and encourage people to actively discuss the issues.
The women involved in the staging have very different backgrounds.
Travers obtained a bachelor of arts honours degree from Newcastle University, studied Shakespeare in Britain, and was a recipient of the 2018 Young Regional Artist scholarship, which enabled her to study acting this year at L'École Internationale de Théâtre Jacques Lecoq in Paris. Morris also graduated from Newcastle University with distinction in creative and performing arts and has worked as a writer and director, as well as being a teacher at Tantrum Youth Arts. She will make her debut in Sleep, Perchance to Dream. The other Ophelia, Burns, is an Adelaide-based performer who met Alex at Zan Zen Zo, a Brisbane-based theatre training and performance company.
The play has performances at the Civic Playhouse nightly at 8pm from Wednesday, August 29 to Saturday, September 1, plus an 11am Friday show. Tickets: $35, concession, student, junior and Civic subscribers $20. Bookings: 4929 1977.