Thursday, May 29, 2008

Hamlet is Immaculate

John Coulbourn (Sun Media) gives Hamlet 4.5 stars out of 5:

"There's very little rotten in the state of Denmark -- at least, not in the Denmark conceived by director Adrian Noble.

"His Denmark -- an elegant Edwardian evocation of Hamlet's Elsinore, created in collaboration with designer Santo Loquasto -- sweeps across the stage of the Stratford Festival in a confident debut, bringing lusty life to Shakespeare's tragic prince and his court.

"Noble's Hamlet opened Tuesday on the stage of the Festival Theatre. With all due respect to Loquasto's impressive design and costuming, all imaginatively lit by Michael Walton, Noble makes his most impressive statements through his performers.

"In Ben Carlson, he has found a strong, sure-footed Hamlet, an actor with a gift for thinking on his feet and a talent for using that gift to maximum effect. Clearly tortured by guilt and indecision, Carlson's Hamlet only flirts with madness, using it merely as as a refuge from which to plot revenge for the murder of his father -- who keeps returning, in the ghostly form of James Blendick, to demand (in sonorous tones more appropriate to a revival meeting than classic theatre) that his murder be avenged.

"His murderer, of course, is his brother (and Hamlet's uncle) Claudius, played by Scott Wentworth. Claudius is an ambitious sort who, after indulging in fratricide to usurp a throne, then marries his widowed sister-in-law Gertrude (Maria Ricossa), to secure his tenuous hold on the crown. In this, he has the seeming co-operation of his chief counsellor, Polonius (Geraint Wyn Davies) -- a fawning, fussy sort who has had his eye on Hamlet as a potential son-in-law, a husband for the fey Ophelia (Adrienne Gould).

"All of that changes, of course, as Hamlet's suspicions are awakened by his father's ghost, then further fed by his uncle's behaviour. Supported by his loyal friend Horatio (Tom Rooney), Hamlet determines to revenge his father and ends up miring the entire court in tragedy.

"Now, about those performances.

"Not surprisingly, for those who have been following his career, Carlson -- under Noble's aegis -- gives a deft and sure-footed performance that, despite its strength, still has room to grow throughout the summer. Carlson has yet to find the comfort level in Shakespeare's poetry that he enjoys in Shavian prose.

"As Ophelia, Gould gives what just might be the performance of her career to date -- sweet and vulnerable, marked by the madness of a wood spirit. While Wentworth seems to have fallen into a vocal pattern that renders his Claudius too often incomprehensible, Ricossa's Gertrude is a study in elegant simplicity that proves deeply touching, For his part, Wyn Davies eventually rises above a certain lack of gravitas to bring Polonius to memorable life.

"There is some impressive work in supporting roles, too, with several welcome newcomers to the Stratford making lasting first impressions. Double-cast as the player king and the first gravedigger, Victor Ertmanis proves strong in both turns, supported in the second by an equally impressive newcomer Randy Hughson. As the long-suffering Horatio, Rooney opts for quiet understatement, while David Leyshon and Patrick McManus step as deftly into the shoes of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern as Jeff Lillico does the mantle of Fortinbras.

"Sadly, not all debuts are as impressive. One is left to wonder just what it was that inspired the Festival to bring Bruce Godfree all the way from Britain to essay a Laertes that rarely rises above the level of forgettable.

"Yet for all his occasional missteps, many of them technical, Noble manages to keep his production very much of a piece, advancing his plot with ease and assurance while giving his extensive cast (which also includes Festival stalwarts such as Juan Chioran, Ron Kennell and Stephen Russell) every opportunity to strut their stuff on this stage.

"All that is rotten in the state of Noble's Denmark is by and large the stuff that Shakespeare intended. Noble is to be commended for making that look easy."

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