Review by Ellen S. Jaffe
“You will never see another Hamlet like this one,” says Richard. Rose, Artistic Director of the Tarragon and director of the current new production of Shakespeare’s play. I agree, and urge you to “get thee to the Tarragon” to see a Hamlet that is both theatrical and intimate, bold and expressively nuanced. The music is billed as rock and roll, but ranges from heavy metal-like to jazz to plaintive, suspenseful leitmotifs. Not just an “addition,” the music is an expressionist subtext in sound and brought home the emotional and intellectual impact of the play. I was completely captivated emotionally, from the opening scene where the ghost appears… Photo by Cylla Von Tydemann
(a wisp of smoke, striking awe into the guards), through Hamlet’s soliloquies and Ophelia’s mad scenes, to the tragic end. Thomas Ryder Payne, sound designer and music director, has done an amazing job of integrating music, and musicians, into the production. (The line through the title, in the press about the play, may be intended to show its departure from the original – but is, I think, unnecessary.)
Rose says he was influenced by some of Marshall McLuhan’s writing in creating this production. The characters are in modern (but not over-stylized) dress; Kathleen Johnston’s costumes are beautifully designed. Hamlet’s clothing, in particular, becomes more raggedy as his madness and feigned madness intensify; in one scene he has his arms folded inside a grey hoodie, giving the appearance of a strait-jacket.
The stage is bare, except for chairs for the actors and microphones through which they speak to the audience –on stands (which sometimes serve as props) and handheld. Behind them, as at a rock concert, are the musical instruments – piano, keyboard, drums, and others – and their players. Some of the actors do double-duty as musicians, including Brandon McGibbon, who plays Laertes. Jason Hand’s lighting is wonderful and bold, starkly setting the scene. At times, the lighting creates an oblique angle on one side of the stage, highlighting the fact that things in Denmark are not what they seem.
The well-chosen cast itself is truly an ensemble, like a band, playing with each other in a rhythm that lets each person shine. I found that the microphones let us hear the words very clearly and yet create a sense of intimacy, as they become an extension of the actors’ mouths and hands. Noah Reid as Hamlet is, of course, the central character. He is truly a young man, aware, ironic but with a touch of innocence. Reid shows us how Hamlet is destroyed by the loss of this innocence: losing his father, seeing his mother marry his uncle too quickly, learning that this uncle has actually murdered his father, and then being spied on and manipulated by people he thinks are his friends, even his beloved Ophelia. In an on-line interview, Reid says he thinks Hamlet is definitely “the smartest guy around,” giving him the upper hand in banter with Polonius and also Rosencrantz & Guildenstern. Reid’s performance dances movingly between pretending madness and actually being mad, as well as showing flashes of sanity and grief. The famous “to be or not to be” soliloquy is un-miked, with no music, like the eye of a storm.
Tantoo Cardinal is powerful as Gertrude, giving the character a range of emotions and a presence onstage that I haven’t seen before. At first seductive, flattered by Claudius’s wooing (did she know he was her husband’s murderer?), she becomes more concerned for her son, and finally able to see and stand up to Claudio’s wicked ways. As Claudius, Nigel Shawn Williams is at first bombastic, falsely genial, but his lies and designs on power become more intense. We get a whiff of sympathy for him in the prayer scene, when he is unable to repent.
Tiffany Ayalik plays Ophelia with a haunting complexity; she has grace and rich voice. Her mad scenes are poignant and heart-wrenching; her madness tinged with sensuality is a counterpoint to Hamlet’s. Cliff Saunders plays both Polonius and the Gravedigger, masterfully switching personae from one character to the other. His Polonius is dapper and self-serving; his Gravedigger broadly comic, with an undertone of gravitas. Rachel Cairns (in a nice bit of cross-dressing) and Jesse LaVercombe play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern with chilling smoothness; LaVercombe also doubles as the servant Osric. Two other notable players are Jack Nicholsen as Marcellus and the Player King, and Beau Dixon as Bernardo and the Player Queen. McGibbon shows how Laertes’ personality develops during the course of the play, and Greg Gale is steady and sane as Hamlet’s faithful friend Horatio. John Stead’s fight scenes add to the drama.
This is a play about truth and lies, torn relationships (personal and political), “fake news, “ and how illusion and betrayal prey on honest emotions. It raises the question of what is madness, and what pushes us to extremes. Definitely a Hamlet for our times...and plays at the Tarragon Main Space through Feb. 11th.
- note :- Ellen’s submitted banner-line layout “Get Thee to HAMLET, with music”