Monday, June 9, 2008

"A Hamlet You've Never Seen Before"

A review of Hamlet from Gary Smith at the Hamilton Spectator:

"In a lifetime, you might see one or two thrilling Hamlets. They're just about that scarce.

"Fortunately for me, I've collided with four. Richard Burton, mellifluous and moody, in the 1964 modern dress version at O'Keefe Centre. Ian McKellan, young, brooding and sexy, as the Great Dane at the Cambridge Theatre, London, in 1969. Ralph Fiennes, dark and poetic, masculine and modern in 2003 at New York's Belasco Theatre.

"And now number four. Ben Carlson, a visceral, vital Hamlet who makes a mock of Shakespeare's lines about indecision and vacillation. There is no timidity here.

"Carlson rattles through director Adrian Noble's dark and elegant production of this problem play without ever giving in to imitation. This is a Hamlet you've never seen before. He's wild with Ophelia, self-mocking with himself, vicious with his uncle and loathing, yet loving, of his confused and desperate mother.

"Noble has directed the play without any big surprises in terms of style and staging. Setting the play in some Edwardian landscape, he allows his actors to act. There are no cute gimmicks. In eschewing the handsome Tanya Moiseiwitsch stage at Stratford, Noble has allowed designer Santo Loquasto to invent a dark and frightening void that exists beyond two dominating doors or panels. These portals open and close impressively, revealing devastating characters who impinge on the mourning state of Denmark.

"The costumes are elegant and simple, revealing a touch of royalty and style. Never is there a sense of design overshadowing the play. Always the physical elements complement the drama on stage.

"Tasteful is a word that comes instantly to mind. Taste is something revealed, too, in Noble's clean, uncluttered direction. Every word is spoken clearly. Every gesture is intelligently made. Every visual motif evocative and riveting.

"Noble is the sort of director who doesn't need to plant a play in present day to force us to understand its relevance. Here, he matches period and mood brilliantly.

"Adrienne Gould is a revelation as Ophelia. Moving from sweet, youthful love to dark, brooding madness, she's a visceral being who can touch the heart and disturb the spirit. Gould has never been better.

"Geraint Wyn Davies is a different Polonius. Instead of a fussy old fool he comes across as a loving father bedevilled by the tragedies of life.

"Scott Wentworth gives Claudius a brooding sexuality, something that makes you understand why Gertrude is taken with his vain appearance and strength.

"Maria Ricossa plays Gertrude as a beautiful, rather brainless trophy wife and it works.

"There are times when sadness clouds her swollen eyes. When she looks at her son and realizes his pain, we can feel her heart break.

"See Hamlet if you want to be part of a new wave at Stratford. Hopefully, this moving look at one of Shakespeare's greatest tragedies signals a return to productions that rely on text and imagination, not some notion of radical thinking without basis."

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