BWW Review: Stratford Festival's HAMLET is Exciting from Start to Finish
HAMLET opened the 63rd season of the Stratford Festival to resounding applause at the Festival Theatre on Monday night. Directed by the Festival's Artistic Director, Antoni Cimolino, this HAMLET is exciting from start to finish. The entire ensemble shines as brightly as the light used to represent King Hamlet's ghost (Note: It is a very bright light).
Jonathan Goad is electrifying. In grieving the loss of his father, Mr. Goad's Hamlet seamlessly shifts from moments of extreme devastation and introspection to an almost animalistic outrage. It is all; however, within the ever-relatable and universal human experience of grief--a theme that is very strong throughout the play and is explored by several characters to great effect.
The entire company is excellent. Tim Campbell's Horatio is the kind of friend that everyone should have; The journey of Adrienne Gould's Ophelia from being innocent and in love to a grief-induced descent into madness is incredibly gut wrenching to witness. Similarly, Mike Shara's Laertes' utter devastation at the untimely deaths of his father and sister is so tangible that the Festival may need to employ security to ensure that audiences do not leap to the stage to embrace him!
As Polonius, Tom Rooney hits all the right notes, and gets all the big laughs. It is funny that some of the wisest Shakespearean quotes come from a character that is such a blowhard, and Mr. Rooney masterfully brings depth and meaning to the wise and beautiful words spoken by Polonius ("Above all else, to thine own self be true"), whilst also delivering a performance that has the audience laughing at his hypocrisy and self-indulgence. Polonius works best when he is likeable, and Mr. Rooney succeeds at this in leaps and bounds.
As Claudius, Geraint Wyn Davies fleshes out the indisputable villain of the play and Seana McKenna brings strength and humanity to Queen Gertrude. Like every other character in the play, Gertrude certainly has her shortcomings, but Ms. McKenna's portrayal is of a strong, smart woman whose only real crime is trying to hold onto the idea of family.
For as excellent as the company is, the lighting, stage design and music are equally as important in making this HAMLET so exciting. The dark and rigid design by Teresa Przybylski is complimented well by Michael Walton's lighting and the music composed by Steven Page. At one point early in the play, shadows that almost look like crucifixes are lightly cast on the characters of Polonius and Ophelia as they converse on stage. Whether this was intentional or a happy accident, it makes for eerie foreshadowing of the tragic roles these two characters play as unwitting martyrs in Hamlet's grief-filled quest for revenge against Claudius.
Audiences will be lining up to grieve with HAMLET and delight in the brilliance of each and every performance for the duration of the season. This is Shakespeare done right, and it should not be missed!
HAMLET runs in repertory until October 11th.
Photo Credit: David Hou