Everyone's Favourite Rogue and Peasant Slave
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Everyone’s Favourite Rogue and Peasant Slave

2007_09_26Hamlet.jpg
Why Not Theatre
‘s production of Hamlet, currently playing at the Winchester Street Theatre, bills itself as an interpretation of everyone’s favourite tragedy so new and different that it has taken an alternate title: The Prince Hamlet. But rather than some from-Mars production full of black leather and dance-breaks you might expect to find at the Fringe, The Prince Hamlet is a relatively straight-forward adaptation of the original work, yet staged interestingly enough to keep a play that most theatregoers have probably seen multiple times already fresh.
Ravi Jain directs the play with a minimalist aesthetic; the actors, of which there are only nine and who are mostly on stage for the entire show, wear simple, modern clothes, and sets are limited to a few black blocks. Atmosphere is created through sound, lighting (watch out, epileptics: strobes abound), and the company’s Lecoq-inspired physical work. But these choices have already become old-hat for modern Shakespeare performances. The most notable difference between The Prince Hamlet and more traditional productions is the way Why Not has restructured the text. Besides being significantly truncated in the usual spots (so long, Fortinbras and the pirates), scenes are not presented in chronological order.
We begin with a stage littered with corpses and Horatio’s speech about “accidental slaughters,” which turns the rest of the play that follows into his story. In fact, nearly every time someone relays a piece of information to another character, the play skips showing that event the first time and shows it then instead, as flashback. This means that we do not see the first Ghost scene until after Horatio and Marcellus have come to tell Hamlet about it. The production also turns the tables on the eavesdropping scenes, meaning that during the “get thee to a nunnery” speech, we see Claudius and Polonius hiding behind the arras, rather than Hamlet and Ophelia; the same idea is used in Gertrude’s closet scene. These changes are at times bemusing, such as the portrayal of the Gravedigger as something akin to the Swedish Chef, but they almost always work.
One might suppose that a play of this nature is for Shakespeare buffs only and might alienate an audience that was not already familiar with the play. But while it definitely seems designed with the seasoned theatregoer (or perhaps even theatre student) in mind, the production is tight, the cast uniformly strong and while the story may be ordered differently, it is very clearly told. It might just be the perfect introduction to one of the greatest plays in Western theatre for the uninitiated.
Photo by Tony Hoffmann.

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