Australian Studies, Vol 4 (2012)

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An Inexplicable Dumbshow? Narrative Innovation in Robert Helpmann's 'Hamlet' (1942)

Elinor Parsons

Abstract


Although the strength of dedicated scores by Prokofiev, Tchaikovsky and Mendelssohn has encouraged many choreographers to tackle Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Robert Helpmann’s ballet makes a case for the particular appropriateness of a nonverbal approach to Hamlet. My essay considers the extent to which the play’s ‘whirlwind of passion’ is tempered and smoothed in Helpmann’s ballet. Various productions have responded directly to the play’s emphasis upon physicality, but Helpmann’s version is unique in several respects. The merits of its economy and brevity are considered alongside the stark visual impact made by Leslie Hurry’s designs. My argument reflects upon the extent to which the ballet might be located within a distinctively British balletic tradition of narrative dance.

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