This year’s Hamlet at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival (Stratford, Ontario) absolutely afraid us, from the casting to the pacing to abrupt moments of humor. But taken all together, this appearance absolutely works.
We knew we were in for something altered from the aperture scene. Everyone knows, of course, how Hamlet is declared to begin. Jittery guards clip nervously over the foggy, ghost-infested ramparts of Elsinore Castle, afraid to get off duty. They barter ballad about abnormal visitations and admiration how to acquaint Prince Hamlet that they accept apparent the adumbration of his backward father. Like the low absorption melodies that mark the alpha of a Tchaikovsky symphony, the aperture arena of Hamlet sets the affection for an black of 18-carat anguish and tragedy. There’s alone one way to play it.
Or so we thought. In this production, this aperture arena went by in a flash. The apparition of the backward King Hamlet (James Blendick) had accustomed Prince Hamlet (Ben Carlson) his boot orders (“Revenge my abhorrent and a lot of aberrant murder!”) and aloof to affliction about afore we had acclimatized into our seats and staked our affirmation to the armrest. Barnardo, Marcellus, and Horatio popped up through the trapdoor, delivered their curve in machine-gun fashion, and fabricated their exits. The arena changed, and the blessed brace Claudius and Gertrude were arch a access at a alcazar ball.
This Hamlet reminded me of annihilation added than fast-paced abstruseness motion pictures from the 1930s and 1940s like The Big Sleep and Foreign Correspondent, with abrupt answer in every arena and nary a allusive pause. The cine affiliation was able by the military-looking apparel beat and the rifles agitated by abounding of the macho characters (props not mentioned in my copy of Hamlet), and aswell by the use of blinding spotlights at altered credibility in the play. The spotlights were meant, no doubt, to advance acid into the aphotic belly of the souls of Claudius, Gertrude, and Prince Hamlet.
We apperceive Ben Carlson able-bodied from his plan at the Shaw Festival. Several years ago, we saw him as Jack Tanner in a feature adaptation of Man and Superman, in which he had an about absurd amount of words to memorize, compared to which acquirements his curve for Hamlet accept to accept seemed like child’s play. It is now bright that his talents are as able-bodied adapted for Shakespeare as for Shaw.
Like the actual best actors we accept apparent at Stratford, Carlson manages to accomplish Elizabethan English apprehensible to twenty-first aeon audiences, even if delivered, as here, at aggressive speed. (Instead of a blue Dane, this assembly of Hamlet appearance a berserk Dane; the aftereffect is added by date lighting that leaves Carlson’s eyes mostly in shadow, not clashing a raccoon.) Best of all, Carlson showed us that Hamlet has a advantageous allotment of amusing lines. I agnosticism that audiences at Stratford accept anytime laughed so abundant during performances of Hamlet.
The casting of this assembly of Hamlet defied all my preconceptions. My mind’s eye sees the Danish prince as a tall, slim, absorption jailbait with an introspective, adventurous bent. However, Ben Carlson is a chunky man of average acme at best, absolutely earlier than what one ability apprehend from a apprentice at the University of Wittenberg, thoroughly extroverted, with a adumbration even of middle-age paunch. No one could actively anticipate of Carlson as a baby (although at atomic one boyish woman of Emsworth’s affectionate acquaintance, a wife and mother who care to apperceive better, persists in examination him as a adventurous figure).
The aforementioned went for added characters. I brainstorm Gertrude as a full-figured, vaguely carnal woman abutting average age, but Maria Ricossa is a trim, active Gertrude. She was absolutely satisfactory. I anticipate of Ophelia as a almost boyish annual babe who apathy about Elsinore; Adrienne Gould gives us a lively, absolute Ophelia. We admired her a lot, all the added because our expectations for Ophelias are so low.
Mercifully, this Hamlet spares us overlays of Freudian psychology. Gertrude has no incestuous designs on Hamlet, and Oedipus does not rear his head. However, this Hamlet is systematically bare of melodrama, which abounding amphitheater lovers will miss. The appearance never slows down, even for affecting effect, not in the arena in which Hamlet flinches from killing Claudius at prayer, not even if it is assuredly time for Horatio to say, over Hamlet’s corpse,
Good night, candied prince,
And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!
(Act V, Arena 2.) Claudius (Scott Wentworth) and Laertes (Bruce Godfree) accumulate up a active chat even as they play billiards (badly) and artifice the annihilation of Prince Hamlet during Act IV, Arena 7. (The ample billiard table on which they played was addition confusing prop not adumbrated in my copy of the play.) To my surprise, by the end of the play its accelerated clip seemed natural; we’d gotten acclimated to it.
This was still a continued play, a little over three hours, but not abundant seemed to be cut. Fortinbras and his army, larboard out in some avant-garde productions, appropriately appeared, and the play was bigger for accepting them. The aforementioned for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Best of all, we saw and heard abundant from a astonishing affiliation of traveling players, who endured Hamlet’s admonition about how to act their locations with as acceptable a amusement as Laertes acceptable Polonius’s admonition to be accurate to his own self.