Members of the company in Hamlet. Photography by David Hou
Reviewed by James Karas
The Stratford Festival launched its current season with the usual fanfare and a production of Hamlet. Antoni Cimolino, the Festival’s Artistic Director, directs a production that has some virtues, some interesting interpretations and some infelicitous moments.
Cimolino gave the lead role to Jonathan Goad, an actor who has done a considerable number of Shakespearean roles at Stratford. At 43, he still looks athletic and fit for the role of the popular prince. There are several issues with his performance some of which fall on the lap of Cimolino others that are Goad’s own.
The main problem is his sense of poetry and emotional depth. Goad has a limited feel for iambic pentameters and he does not allow the flow of Shakespeare’s language to carry through. He delivers some of his soliloquies as if he were addressing the public. The “to be or not to be” soliloquy is a rumination on life death and the hereafter. Goad looks straight at the audience as if her were speaking to, say, a large lecture hall.
When he considers catching Claudius during a performance of The Mousetrap he recalls to have heard that people sitting at a play have been so affected by the scene that they have confessed their guilt. On “sitting at a play” Goad pointed to the audience and got a laugh. For that second Goad stepped out of character for a cheap laugh.
Hamlet has some of the greatest moments in theatrical literature and Goad falls short of the emotional depths demanded by the play. He gets a decent mark for his performance but not a great one.
Geraint Wyn Evans makes a very good Claudius. He usually wears a suit except in a couple of scenes where he wears monarchical regalia. The production seems to be set around one hundred years ago. Claudius is not openly dictatorial and in fact he makes some effort to be friendly with people by touching and hugging them a bit too much. Royalty is usually aloof but Claudius has a different approach probably because of his guilty conscience.
Seana McKenna with her distinctive and expressive voice makes a very effective Gertrude. She wears several fancy dresses and is effective in the bedroom scene. Goad is different. Rather than aiming his devastating accusations right at her, Hamlet walks around the stage. He tells his mother to repent her past sins and avoid the disgusting Claudius. She does nothing of the kind. When Claudius arrives at the end of the scene, she embraces him. This is an interesting take on the scene and supported by the text.
Adrienne Gould as Ophelia and Jonathan Goad as Hamlet in Hamlet. Photography by David Hou.
Adrienne Gould is a dramatic and affecting Ophelia during her sanity and madness. A fine performance.
Tom Rooney’s Polonius is, in the words of T. S. Eliot, politic, cautious, and meticulous and full of high sentence but he is neither obtuse nor almost ridiculous. He is a bit garrulous but Cimolino prefers to give us a straight Polonius even though he garners a few laughs.
In the opening scene, we see some soldiers march solemnly towards a hole on the stage. We see them at the end of the performance march on stage again. The hole is Hamlet’s grave. Effective.
The scene with the nervous guards at the beginning works very well and the Ghost shining a flashlight is done simply and effectively. The Ghost is played by Wyn Evans.
Tim Campbell plays a very sympathetic Horatio. With him as well as with Hamlet and Rosencrantz (Sanjay Talwar) and Guildenstern (Steve Ross) you wonder if they are not a bit too old to be attending university but that should only be a minor afterthought.
The production should generate discussion, praise and disagreement. A pretty good result.
Hamlet by William Shakespeare opened on May 25 and will run in repertory until October 11, 2015 at the Festival Theatre, Stratford, Ontario. www.stratfordfestival.ca