Sunday, July 19, 2015

Hamlet. At the Stratford (Ontario) Festival Theatre.

      Hamlet. At the Stratford Festival Theatre. Directed by Antoni Cimolino. With Jonathan Goad (Hamlet), Seana McKenna (Gertrude), Geraint Wyn Davies (Claudius), Adrienne Gould (Ophelia), Tim Campbell (Horatio), Tom Rooney (Polonius), Mike Shara (Laertes), et al. An unimaginative, straightforward, and badly cut version. Like the curate’s egg, good in parts, but not adding up into a satisfying whole. I think the director forgot that Shakespeare is about character, not plot, not spectacle, not music. Doing Hamlet in early 20th century dress with rifles instead of swords and halberds may seem like a Real Cool Idea, but unless there’s some subtext that’s revealed by this costuming, there’s no point to it. In fact, it becomes ludicrous when Hamlet wanders around the castle with a rifle on his way to Gertrude after the play.
     The tricky questions in any production are about why the characters behave as they do; one must intuit their backstories. For example, why was Claudius accepted so readily as his brother’s successor? Was it because he turns out to be a skillful king? Or was he just the next available male in the royal house? Did he and Gertrude have something going? Even Claudius suggests that the wedding might seem to come to soon after Old Hamlet’s death.
     Any production of Hamlet stands and falls by the actor’s performance, which means by the director’s and actor’s conception of the character. Goad was competent, with very good moments. His scenes with Horatio all worked, these were clearly two men at ease with each other. But here and there he seemed unclear with the concept. Is his rage at Ophelia real, or merely an act? Or both? And what about the antic disposition, anyway? Is he acting every time, or does he act in order to cover a real breakdown? The text hints at these and many other possibilities. For the audience’s sake, the ambiguities must either be resolved, or clarified to avoid confusion.
     Most of all, this performance lacked energy and focus. Every player did a good job, most of the low-key and humorous scenes worked very well, but all in all, the play was piecey. The music was often too loud. The set design was I suppose intended to be dark, but it was dingy when it wasn’t merely dim.
    Richard Ouzounian gave the play a rave review.  He says,”Never have I seen a Hamlet in which people really talked to each other with such intensity. Every moment matters and every moment is played with full reality.” Well, I have seen several such performances.
     And here is Kelly Nestruck's review in the Globe and Mail.
     This Hamlet is #16 or 17 on stage and screen (I’ve lost count), and I can’t recall a less involving one. Maybe it was an off night. **

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