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Educational Support Material
& Program

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We are proud to be a part of the VCAA Drama Playlist for 2024, helping VCE Drama students and teachers achieve the outcomes for their studies.

Below you will find a variety of information to help support the study of our production both before and after seeing the show. And if there is anything further from us you need please don't hesitate to contact us!

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Hamlet - A Commedia Tragedy

Hamlet is a Commedia dell’Arte adaption of Shakespeare’s famous tragedy as you have never seen it before. A short and punchy 100 minute show packed full of larger than life characters and physicality, clever and adaptable stagecraft and a diverse troupe of 5 actors who multi-role to bring this tragic tale to new and relevant life in two stunning outdoor venues will make for an unforgettable experience. 


    Hamlet - Set in 1939 in Copenhagen, Denmark with the world on the precipice of World War Two, the famous Circus Belli is enjoying the height of its success. After the sudden death of their Ringmaster Hamlet senior, his brother Claudius takes both the whip as the new Ringmaster and owner of the circus Gertrude as his new wife. Left alone in the grief of losing his father, seeing him so easily replaced and his mother so quickly remarried, young Hamlet is visited by the ghost of his father commanding he seek revenge on his uncle Claudius who murdered him. And so the descent of our story begins. As Hamlet seeks avenues to enact his revenge the darkness of his intentions spreads through the circus like a disease and the facade of the showy world of Circus begins to crack dragging everyone into the maelstrom and no one is immune. Hamlet, the Circus and Denmark are all symbolically connected in their demise as we witness Hamlet driven to his end by revenge, the demise of Circus as the pre-eminent form of entertainment as television dawns on the horizon, and the demise of Denmark into World War Two as their peaceful neutrality is ripped away by Germany. Does history repeat itself or will this time be different?


    Set in two stunning outdoor spaces; the Garden for the Future in Bendigo and The Fairfield Amphitheatre in Melbourne, audiences are encouraged to bring a picnic of food and drink, comfortable seating and prepare for the weather (camp chairs and blankets for green grass in Bendigo, and rugs and cushions for the stone steps of Fairfield) making this a truly wonderful night out at the theatre.

Meet The Team

A Word from the Director...

Mandy Ellison, the Director and Scott Middleton, Production Manager and Artistic Director of Sheoak Production Company adapted their interpretation of the script from the Arden Shakespeare Edition of Hamlet by William Shakespeare. Their aim was to present an interpretation of the play combining conventions of traditional Commedia Dell’arte and Elizabethan Theatre performance styles, re-contextualised to set the story in Denmark in 1939 on the cusp of World War Two in Europe. Here Mandy discusses the playmaking process of adapting the script in this way for the target VCE Drama student audience.

Once again, I am privileged to have been asked to direct another Sheoak production which has been included

on the 2024 VCAA playlist for VCE Drama students to analyse. In my role as the Director, Scott gave me a

specific brief to work with. The style of the performance would be Commedia Dell’ Arte and I could only have

5 actors to portray all of the characters. The run time had to be edited to approximately 100 minutes and as

with all productions, we had to work within a budget. My experience as a VCE Drama and Theatre Studies

teacher would be used to develop the work so that the performance could demonstrate the key knowledge

and skills for the VCE Unit 3 Drama students’ performance analysis task. This includes modelling the use of

playmaking techniques when devising an ensemble performance, as well as the inclusion of conventions such

as transformation of time, place and character, as well as application of symbol, throughout the performance.

Adapting Shakespeare’s ‘The Tragedy of Hamlet’ into a Commedia performance has been no small

undertaking. At nearly 4 hours in length, rich with poetic imagery, lengthy monologues and political intrigue,

a story that ends up with most of the main characters dead, we had a challenge ahead of us. Both Scott and

I have long harboured a passion for Shakespeare and the style of Commedia Dell’arte. We have successfully

combined these two styles in previous adaptations of Shakespeare’s The Two Gentlemen of Verona (Two

Gents 2021) and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Midsummer 2022). In this production we wanted to explore

how the application of conventions of Commedia Dell’arte could continue the traditional art of dramatic

storytelling and engage a contemporary audience in one of Shakespeare’s tragedies.

The wonderful thing about William Shakespeare’s plays is that the character archetypes, stories and themes are universal. Shakespeare wrote his plays to both entertain and provide commentary on the London Elizabethan world. Shakespeare did not write plays for literary study and analysis, he wrote plays to be seen and heard, with characters that his audiences would recognise and identify with. In the spirit of Shakespeare’s intentions for theatre in London in the late 16th Century, we believe he would wholeheartedly embrace any adaptation that would make his characters and themes pertinent for diverse audiences. At least, this is the Director’s licence to be able to explore and harness the dramatic potential of the script. As a teacher/director I would like our student audiences, and indeed our general public audience, to question, analyse and evaluate how this interpretation resonates with them. I believe plays should be provocative, ask questions and create opportunities for discussion. There is no right or wrong – just how do you react to or feel about what is presented to you.

The concept to keep the location of the play in Denmark as per the original text, but to change the setting

period to 1939 gave a sound basis for exploring Hamlet’s psychological decline as a metaphor for destruction

of the impending impact of World War 2, including the oncoming occupation of Denmark by German forces

in 1941 and the decline in the Circus as a popular entertainment after the war.

I have relished the opportunity to work with Scott and the production team three years on from our first collaboration with Two Gents in 2021 of multi-rolling all the characters and the intense physicality in performing stock characters of the Commedia Dell’ Arte. Emma Herben is absolutely gold as our Stage Manager. She has once again blessed us with her fabulous organisation, attention to detail, creative arts for many of the props and costumes and ability to source just about anything on the internet as well as her role as Stage Manager and Front of House during every performance. Watch the interviews with the actors to hear about their journey of discovery in bringing Hamlet to the stage.


- Mandy Ellison, Director.     


We are sincerely grateful for the assistance and generosity of the people who have helped bring this project to fruition. Our performing artists are still trying to recover their careers from the impact of the Covid-19 restrictions two years ago. We would like to thank the audience for coming to see Hamlet to support live theatre and our actor’s livelihoods.


Bendigo Theatre Company
for assistance with the rehearsal venue and the wonderful Stania Tresize for her help with

costume hire.

Mark Beever

for assistance with production photos used in the performance


Emma Herben, Stage Manager Extraordinaire

For her impeccable organisation, creative crafting, sewing and her never-ending Mary Poppins Wardrobe


The Bendigo Advertiser and GOLD FM Radio Bendigo

for media coverage and publicity photographs


Dr Meg Upton

Curriculum Manager-Performing Arts Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority


Ian Scott from ISLX

Lighting hire

Video Content

Rehearsal Process
      - Weekly Updates

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Actor Interviews

Classroom Material

For our entire Educational resources pack in PDF format please the image below.

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