Friday, October 12, 2012

A Wee Hamlet

Last week, the compact traveling production of Hamlet from Shakespeare’s Globe was quite entertaining and unlike any Hamlet I’ve ever seen.  That said, was it Hamlet?  It didn’t feel like Hamlet, although it was certainly Shakespeare.  The language, rapid-fire and musical, was intellectually challenging, and, by virtue of the words themselves and the rhythm of the lines, emotionally fraught.  But were the characters? 

The play opens with song, Laura Forrest-Hay’s music performed by the eight actors who portray all the characters in the script.  Artistic Director Dominic Dromgoole co-directed the play with Bill Buckhurst on a tight, clever set by Jonathan Fensom, who also designed the versatile costumes.
Scenic Design Jonathan Fensom, Lighting by Paul Russell.  Photo credit (c) 2012 F. Stop Fitzgerald

The spitfire Hamlet of this production was Michael Benz, a very young man in whom we could see all those things the play says Hamlet was wont to embody — courtier, scholar, etc.  Mr. Benz articulated the brilliance of Hamlet, rather like a teenager whose genius was appreciated before but no longer, not under the reign of the usurper.  This boy is hurt, rather frightened, and still responds with immaturity to much that occurs around him.  Which comes off quite funny.  The lines of the play have always shown us that, but Mr. Benz gave us more of the young man’s brash uncertainty than the older actors to whom we are accustomed.  This Hamlet was a stranger in a familiar land.

Tom Lawrence played the grounded best friend, Horatio, with warmth and humor, and lent life and reality to his other charges, Reynaldo and the Norwegian Captain.

Peter Bray gave equal weight to his portrayals of Rosencrantz, Osric (witty and swell), and Marcellus, although his Fortinbras was not as well defined. 

Matthew Romain plays a fine fiddle, a sensitive and loving Laertes, and a Guildenstern with some depth.
Benz, Bray, and Romain, Miranda Foster in the background.  (c) 2012 Fiona Moorehead.

Christopher Saul was grave as both Polonius, who didn’t talk nearly as much as usual, and the Gravedigger in a greatly shortened scene.

Dickon Tyrrell did good work as the Ghost of Hamlet’s father and the usurping Uncle Claudius, his characters clearly differentiated.  While his lively First Player and Player King were quite delightful, playing all those roles did require some suspension of disbelief from the audience, particularly during the cleverly curtained scene changes surrounding the play within the play.

Miranda Foster played Gertrude rather as a fishwife, braying her tears and fears.  Mind you, in this shortened version of the play (I wish I could see the actual script), Gertrude did seem to have been given short shrift.

Carlyss Peer played Ophelia as a country girl, strong, not too bright, which was fine in the first half, but not so much in the second.  Her mad scenes did not come off as a girl deranged by loss but rather as acting exercises.
Hamlet and Ophelia.  (c) 2012 Fiona Moorehead.

Sometimes, despite the skill of these players, it almost seemed like a production of youngsters, perhaps because most of the players seemed to be physically slight in comparison to the blatant adult males — Saul’s Polonius/Gravedigger and Tyrrell’s Claudius/Ghost, both men much taller than the other players.  Must give us pause.

While the set was fabulous and imaginative, the upper portion was barely used — primarily when Hamlet “hid” Polonius’ corpse and when he returned from his sojourn with the pirates and tells Horatio the tale.  Unfortunately at the time they were upstage of the people clearing the stage (rhythmically, artistically) of the graveyard scene, so it was easy to miss what Hamlet had to say about Rosencrantz and Guildenstern
Polonius, Claudius, Hamlet, and Gertrude.  (c) 2012 Fiona Moorehead.

The humor in the play was at the forefront here — perhaps that has to do with speed — and the musical opening, interludes, and closing were jolly.  And, of course, there was time for them since you cannot tell me that the text workers (they’re not called dramaturgs in the program) didn’t cut quite large swathes out of the script.  The play wasn’t a mere 2 hours 40 minutes just because Hamlet spoke so fast.  It’s been cut and cut and cut, and while the result was not precisely a new play, it’s a different version.

Back to my earlier question:  Was it Hamlet?  It was not a tragedy, nor was it emotionally engaging.  Well, it was a “Wee Hamlet.” All in all, a flawed but enjoyable afternoon at the theatre.  While the New York run has ended, the production also plays Boston and the West Coast. See it if you have the opportunity.

~ Molly Matera, signing off to re-read the play.  The long version.

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