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A CurtainUp Review
This scaled-down presentation, co-directed by Dominic Dromgoole and Bill Buckhurst, could hardly be accused of being swollen to elephantine proportions. Drawing on the Folio of 1623 and the touring Quarto of 1603 scenes have been cut, transposed, or omitted altogether.
Having seen my share of Hamlets over the years, I can vouch for the merits of shortened versions. At 4,024 lines, it ranks as Shakespeare’s longest work and theatergoers who watch a full uncut-text productio can expect to settle in for a 4-hour stretch.
The big question in Hamlet undoubtedly lies in the to-be-or-not-to-be speech. But the one closely following at its heels is whether the title actor is up to the formidable task of portraying the Dane. In this staging, the answer is mostly yes. The melancholy prince is performed by the young and attractive Michael Benz, who has the Shakespearean chops and can wrap his mouth around the famous soliloquies and set pieces. Where he comes short (and all actors playing Hamlets do, in one way or another) is in not fully exploring the play's “two Hamlets,” the brashy one we meet before he departs for England, and the more mellow one after he miraculously returns from his deadly sea adventure. Benz nails the first but doesn’t quite convey the gravitational weight of the more mature Hamlet of Acts 4 and 5.
Looking beyond the iconic role, the other parts are performed by a handful of very versatile actors (Peter Bray, Miranda Foster, Tom Lawrence, Carlyss Peter, Matthew Romain, Christopher Saul, and Dickon Tyrrell), doubling tripling, and even quadrupling roles. Though the multiple role-changing, tends to compromise the psychological depth of some key characters like Claudius and Gertrude, the actors compensate by their remarkable ingenuity as they shift from major to minor personages.
One could not wish for a better Elizabethan-styled rustic set design (Jonathan Fensom). It's practically structured for quicksilver scene changes, with the actors sometimes shifing props to appropriate the dramatic moment, or take parts of the set with them as they exit to clear the stage for a fight scene that requires more rushing and running about. The costumes (Jonathan Fensom again) are a blend of the Elizabethan and contemporary, bringing a refreshing modernity to the piece. And what flavorful music. The original score is by Laura Forrest-Hay, and the inventive arrangements by Bill Barclay, provide smooth scene transitions and bold accents to the action. It's all performed by the actors on an array of traditional and contemporary instruments.
This production doesn’t pull out all the tragic stops of the work, and yet it does urgently deliver the poignant myth of the young prince who never claimed the crown of Denmark. Moreover, it introduces us to the latest up-and comer to inhabit this iconic character. For as Oscar Wilde rightly observed about this play and its most famous role: “There are as many Hamlets as there are melancholies.
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