By James Karas
Hart House Theatre produces one of Shakespeare’s plays every year and for the current season it has tackled the big one: Hamlet. The play tests the mettle of most professional companies and one is not surprised that it gives a tough time to the mostly young and largely recent acting graduates.
Everyone has his own Hamlet and director Paolo Santalucia is no different. He has opted for a modern dress production right down to the iPhone. There is nothing to indicate royalty or a palace. In fact Santalucia and Set Designer Nancy Perrin go to great lengths to place the play in a down market milieu.
Dan Mousseau as Hamlet. Photo: Scott Gorman
The most prominent feature of the set is a pile of wooden chairs that dominate the right side of the stage. There are plastic curtains hanging on the left side with some scaffolding. Claudius (Cameron Johnston) sits on a wooden chair in his opening scene. The set looks like a basement storage room and one is hard put to understand what it is supposed to mean. A chair leg came in handy, however, for Hamlet to bludgeon Polonius with in Gertrude’s bedroom.
Musical Director Kristen Zara has inserted short pieces of music and songs and they were no doubt intended to enhance the action. I could not follow the modern music and could not figure out what a snippet from “Tales of the Vienna Woods” was supposed to add.
There were some dramatic scenes but most of the actors were clearly out of their depth. Shakespeare’s language is difficult at the best of times but a desire to deliver it at a fast speed without sufficient enunciation resulted in many syllables simply disappearing.
Hamlet is a very long play and judicious cuts are the norm rather than the exception. Dramaturge Susan Bond should have perhaps considered more aggressive deletions to keep the performance well under three hours and give the actors the luxury of delivering their line at slower speeds.
Hamlet has plenty of humour but much of it misfired or the audience laughed at scenes that were not particularly funny. Rosencrantz (Alan Shonfield) and Guildenstern (Dylan Evans) are usually good for a few laughs but this time they barely generated a twitter.
Dan Mousseau played a youthful Hamlet and he registered some dramatic effects. Unfortunately he has no poetry in him and we got no vocal modulation for Shakespeare’s iambic pentameters. It was all ordinary prose.
Johnston’s Claudius came out as a pretty ordinary fellow and, with a wig and a long shirt the Ghost (played by Johnstone) looked pretty ridiculous. They showed a large portrait of King Hamlet in the bedroom scene and he was a long way from looking like Hyperion.
One can quibble, criticize and argue about many aspects of every production of Hamlet. However it behooves us to keep in mind that these are young actors who got the chance to sink their teeth into one of the greatest plays in the world.
The audience sensed that and gave the production an enthusiastic approval.
Hamlet by William Shakespeare opened on November 4 and will play until November 21, 2015 at Hart House Theatre, 7 Hart House Circle, Toronto, Ontario. www.harthousetheatre.ca Telephone (416) 978-8849