Wednesday, May 28, 2008

"Really Wonderful" Hamlet

Review from Laura Cudworth at the Stratford Beacon Herald:

"While Hamlet wavers, Ben Carlson does not.

"That’s why this season’s Stratford Shakespeare Festival production of Hamlet is engaging and well worth seeing.

"Mr. Carlson has played the part before (in Chicago to rave reviews) and he doesn’t disappoint in his Stratford debut either. Mr. Carlson is comfortable in Hamlet’s skin and in the decisions he’s made on the character’s behalf. Mr. Carlson’s Hamlet is crystal clear.

"There’s something very satisfying about the main character not having the show stolen from him. For those who want to see Hamlet, you’ll get Hamlet.

"The very famous soliloquies are beautifully delivered. This is a memorable production all around.

"Director Adrian Noble avoids gimmicks and presents the play without distractions. It’s bare bones. Other than large wooden doors and carefully chosen props, used sparingly, there’s no set to speak of.

"This play is so familiar, he has the luxury of being able to let the actors act. And they do.

"The production is set in 1910 during the Edwardian era, which has a very distinct look, and it doesn’t have to compete with a flashy set. The military influence in the clothing suggests a discipline that is lacking in the self-indulgence of the upper classes.

"The lighting design is nothing short of spectacular. Michael Walton’s use of shadows and silhouettes is absolutely lovely and serves the play well. Backlighting, flashlights and lamps all set the mood and make the play interesting to look at.

"The light and dark, the very things Hamlet grapples with philosophically, are physically on the stage. Really wonderful.

"Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark, is compelled to avenge his father’s death after it’s revealed to him his uncle, who now sits on the throne, murdered his father. His uncle Claudius (Scott Wentworth) has also married Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother. Because of his mother’s infidelity Hamlet turns on all women, most horribly on the chaste Ophelia.

"The beef I have is with the virgin/whore dichotomy Shakespeare sets up through Ophelia and Gertrude. But in this production Ophelia’s innocence takes on a juvenile quality that’s a bit disturbing.

"She’s dressed like a child, her bed is childlike and a doll sits on top. This is someone being courted for marriage. She’s not 35 but she’s not 10 either. All the childlike imagery combined with the romantic connection to Hamlet is, frankly, a bit creepy.

"Mr. Noble could have trusted Adrienne Gould to act the part — Ophelia’s an iconic character — and toned down the heavy imagery.

"While Hamlet speaks some of Shakespeare’s most well known lines, Polonius too has some of the best known phrases and some of the wisest. His advice to Laertes, 'To thine own self be true,' for example.

"However, it’s not long after this that he becomes a bit of a clown when he believes Hamlet’s apparent madness is the result of Hamlet’s love for Ophelia. Geraint Wyn Davies handles both the wisdom of the man and the foolishness of the man with ease. He’s a pleasure to watch, and his timing is impeccable. He’s missed on stage once he’s met his fate.

"Mr. Wentworth, Ms. Gould and Maria Ricossa as Gertrude turned in solid performances too. This really is a professional and polished production."

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