Hamlet (Performance Review)

Note: This review is around the 500 word mark to keep with a word limit my editor gave me (I wrote this for my University's Newspaper). If the first and/or second paragraph seems choppy, believe me when I say that I'm trying to work with it.

Hamlet (December 5th, 2008)

Hart House was host to a special one night only performance of Hamlet by the Classical Theatre Project on Friday, December 5th, and it was quite the treat. After over 400 years of circulation, most of the nuance of Shakespeare's classic comes from personal interpretation of the text, and I find that the true enjoyment of the work is found by taking in as many unique angles as possible. Is Hamlet upset because his father's dead, or is it because Claudius cut ahead of him in the monarchical succession line? Did Ophelia commit suicide, or was she murdered to keep Denmark's body count up? Are Rosencrantz and Guildenstern really dead? These are the questions of essays, but the key question of a performance review is far simpler: was it any good? Ignoring the discrepancy between my interpretation of the play and director Charles Roy's, the answer is a definite "yes."

Hamlet is the son of the recently deceased King of Denmark, and his uncle Claudius takes the throne ahead of him. After a strange spirit speaks to Hamlet and asserts that the late King was murdered by Claudius' hand, Hamlet embarks on a somewhat discontinuous quest for revenge.

The cast of this performance was very strong, projecting their lines clearly and emotively. Peter Church in particular made an excellent Polonius and Gravedigger. The only real weak link was Paul Kit as Claudius, who is unfortunately for his role naturally endowed with the sort of improbable jaw line that would make Bruce Campbell proud. This is a concern because Claudius is supposed to be a vile and cowardly creature, and that portrait is just a tad undermined when the actor portraying him could smash boulders into dust with his lower jaw. The staging was rather inventive, especially the final fencing sequence between Laertes and Hamlet that was well choreographed and performed with exceptional skill and conviction. A technically solid production all around.

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I still hold Kenneth Branagh's 1996 interpretation to be the best Hamlet I've ever seen.

However the biggest issue with this performance of Hamlet is not what was done wrong, but what was not done at all. The character Fortinbras (Prince of Norway) had been omitted entirely, in itself not an uncommon decision for the consideration of time and efficiency. But often with the elimination of this character comes the omission of Hamlet's fourth of four major soliloquies, and this was exactly the case with this performance. The audience needs this soliloquy in order for Hamlet's arc to be complete and believable, and its absence turns the pace of the play from brisk to rushed, and leaves a gap in the character's development. Specifically, the fourth soliloquy inspired by Fortinbras spurs Hamlet from indecision to action. Without it, the violent conclusion doesn't quite click.

This oversight notwithstanding, Charles Roy's Hamlet was a very good performance. All other curiosities are merely just different opinions of the material. Some directors - Charles Roy being one of them - like to exaggerate the humourous and incestuous undertones of the play, and others prefer a simpler approach. I can appreciate either decision. Anyone fortunate enough to catch this one night only performance should not have been disappointed.

For a 500 word review, it's quite good. Altough, I didn't see the performance.

One of the things that makes me laugh in this world is when people says:

Ignorant people: This video game/movie/tv show/rock music/etc shoudn't be allowed for our children.
Me: Would you make your children read Hamlet?
Ignorant people: Well it's made by Shakespeare. Yes, I would let them read a classic.
Me: Ok, you're conscious that Hamlet is about treason, murder, incest and it's kinda bloody.
Someone who's less ignorant than a minute ago: Really?! Oh my god! I should really inform myself!

To the ignorant person's credit, games/movies/TV shows are all visual mediums, and they tend to be a lot more impressive (in the sense more likely to leave an impression on you). I never really got the full force of Hamlet until I saw it performed live for the first time about four years ago. I know this doesn't apply to rock music though.

Funny story: In twelfth grade, our class had to either read Hamlet or King Lear. Our teacher would not allow anyone to read King Lear because it ends up being almost totally nihilistic at the end.

Thanks for compliment. I'm giving it just one last proof read before I send it off to my editor.

Oh contraire my friend (for the rock comment).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bgGRSC08lII

I've seen two Alice Cooper concerts so far. He sure does love Toronto.

 

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