"O, that this too too solid flesh would melt,
Thaw and resolve itself into a dew!
Or that the Everlasting had not fix'd
His canon 'gainst self-slaughter! O God! God!
How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable
Seem to me all the uses of this world!" Act I, scene ii
|Stratford Festival of Canada ; August 29, 2008 Stratford, Canada|
Director : Adrian Noble ; Starring :
Reviewed on : 2008-08-30 13:47:07 ; Reviewed by : Antonia Mandry
|When a big name British director comes to Stratford to direct one of the Bard’s most famous plays, the expectations are high, not just for production standards, but also for innovation and interpretation. So it is a great disappointment to find that Adrian Noble, former artistic director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, presents us with a production of Hamlet that is both listless and dry. It is punctuated by only a few flourishes made more exciting by their rarity.
The first impact comes in the form of the set; a plain, black, diamond-shaped stage, simple stark furniture, and a clever use of curtains, smoke, and lighting mark this production. The stark set is utilized to focus the attention on the action and to amplify the dark and dour Edwardian Denmark within which Noble has set the tragedy. Unfortunately, the action and the acting do little to warrant this attention. The exception is one notable performance. Geraint Wyn Davies’ Polonius is a humorous, refreshing, and amiable contrast to the gray and lifeless characters around him, all of whom seem to exist in a realm of shadows or half-life. These waxy figures, when they do exhibit passion, drag it from the depths of their apathy. Wyn Davies seems out-of-step because he lives and loves honestly to a point. Even the lighting design treats him differently; he is lit with warm tones while greys and diluted colours are focused on the others. Polonius’ loving relationship with his family is also emphasized in short, effective moments, such as when he sits shoulder-to-shoulder with his daughter at the piano and when he begins giving his advice to his son. Especially thought-provoking are the reactions of his children to his speech: they begin by rolling their eyes but end with a pause, struck by his statement ‘To thine own self be true.’ Both children appear surprised at this wise pronouncement, and even Polonius seems embarrassed by his sudden sagacity. Wyn Davies’ Polonius is certainly not the weasel seen in other productions, and thus his relationship with Hamlet takes a wholly different form. His jolly, honest sense of humour diverges starkly from Hamlet’s, who uses his sarcastic wit to jab poniards at his targets in a series of darkly funny asides. His primitive sense of humour and stolid personality demonstrate how much out-of-step Polonius is with the other inhabitants of Elsinore and lead ultimately to his ignominious death.
Ben Carlson’s Hamlet is drawn from one palette; a whiny, adenoidal, sour stick-in-the-mud who glowers and growls across the stage and remains completely unsympathetic from beginning to end. This unsympathetic portrayal is exacerbated by his treatment of the harmless Polonius, the childlike Ophelia, and his worried mother; furthermore, Hamlet’s tragic dilemma is lost in a mediocre performance and lackluster charisma. This is a Hamlet who evokes no strong reactions; is at the most mildly distasteful.
The supporting cast can do very little in a production so designed to drain the life and energy from the text; even James Blendick as the Ghost and Scott Wentworth as Claudius give performances too subtle to register.
The costume design, however, is less than subtle, and, in fact, intrusive. Indeed, the audience must spend a great deal of time wondering why the action is set in Edwardian England. Tellingly, the playbill lists no costume designer; only Assistant Costume Designer Alix Dolgoy and Designer Santo Loquasto are listed. This implies that focus was split between costumes and set, leaving the audience with confusion as to what they brought to the production.
What lingers is the lighting and special effects: the use of changeable lighting levels, curtains, and fog in the Ghost scenes leads to a satisfyingly eerie feeling. Hamlet’s departure for England is shown with a partial closing of the curtains, sound effects, a rising fog, and the movement of a lamp used to symbolize the approach of a train.
Ultimately, however, good lighting design and a memorable set design can add little to a production stifled by apathy and stilted direction.
Sir John Gilbert, R.A.,
Hamlet in the Presence of His Father's Ghost
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