The Play’s the Thing
In high school, I wrote an essay entitled something like “Hamlet’s madness: Feigned or real?”. I honestly can’t tell you now which side I supported, but after seeing Stratford Festival’s production of Hamlet which opened the 2015 season, I have the answer. It’s both.
Jonathan Goad’s Hamlet is brilliant. He portrays a Hamlet who is losing his mind in an anxiety filled state, but who is also pretending to be crazy in his attempt to discern more about his father’s death.
This is one of Shakespeare’s best known works. The young prince of Denmark, Hamlet, returns home to find his father dead. His uncle has taken over the throne and married his mother. Hamlet suspects murder, tries to figure out the course of events, and eventually decides he must avenge his father’s death.
Goad’s Hamlet reminds me of the late, great Robin Williams, and I mean no disrespect to either. Like Robin Williams doing stand-up, he is at times frenzied in his presentation, darting about in word and action like someone with attention deficit disorder. Other times, he is more like a thoughtful, calm Robin Williams answering questions on a talk show.
We see Goad as Hamlet falling to his knees in grief over his father’s untimely death and his mother’s hasty marriage to his uncle. As Denmark celebrates the marriage, Goad’s Hamlet is completely stressed that there might have been foul play involved. He takes on the burden of revealing the cause of his father’s death and his anxiety is palpable. Later his madness is obviously feigned, as he frantically tries to learn the role his uncle Claudius played in his father’s death. Goad delivers on Hamlet’s state of mind: We feel his grasp on reality is very tenuous, giving the famous soliloquy “To be or not to be” full importance.
Like Goad’s presentation, this entire production of Hamlet moves along quickly. Credit goes to Director Antoni Cimolino (Also Stratford Festival’s Artistic Director) for the rapid scene changes and the story moving forward with purpose.
The set is cemetery-like, with black boxes similar to today’s gravestones on the stage. They are rearranged for various purposes, but still retain a dark, deathly quality.
The production is well-cast. Tom Rooney as the nosy Polonius, and Mike Shara as the swaggering Laertes are perfect. Adrienne Gould is convincing as the mad Ophelia: there is no question as to her state of mind. We hurt for her when Hamlet tells her to “get thee to a nunnery.”
Geraint Wyn Davies is excellent as Claudius who usurps his brother’s throne. Rather than being fully evil, he is believable when he shows his remorse in prayer. Seana McKenna is Gertrude, demonstrating loyalty to her new husband, and torn about her son’s dislike of him.
The costumes are not typical Shakespearean but early 20th century dress. Hamlet kills Polonius with a gun, rather than a sword. It’s a change that works well.
The play within the play, where Hamlet asks the group of actors to demonstrate what he believes happened to his father, is very effective. Juan Chioran as the Player King and Sarah Afful as the Player Queen make this the pivotal point in the play.
This is an excellent production for anyone new to seeing Hamlet on stage. Cimolino’s modernizing of this classic has worked well, which should make it a good introduction for students. I have lost count of the number of times I’ve seen Hamlet, but I know this is the third time I’ve seen it on Stratford’s stage. Goad has made Hamlet seem more like someone we know.
Hamlet continues in repertoire until October 11 at the Festival Theatre, Stratford. Tickets are available at Stratford Festival at 1-800-567-1600, or check www.stratfordfestival.ca
Photo: Jonathan Goad as Hamlet in Hamlet. Photo by David Hou.
Hamlet – Stratford Festival 2015
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Antoni Cimolino
Performed by Jonathan Goad et al.
Produced by Stratford Festival
Festival Theatre, Stratford
May 1 to October 11, 2015
Reviewed by Mary Alderson