There’s a scene in “Hamlet,” being performed through Sept. 19 as part of the Castle Theatre Festival, that epitomizes both the brilliance of the play, and the greatness of this production of it.
It’s the scene where Hamlet (David Morgan) has hired a troupe of actors to perform a play similar to what he believes to have been the circumstances surrounding his father’s death. Hamlet watches the play, as he watches Claudius (Chris Kendrick), looking for a twinge of recognition and guilt to cross the king’s face. Claudius stares at the play, unblinking and unflinching. Hamlet’s friend Horatio (Chris Clark), hiding in the shadows, also watches Claudius. They watch the play; they watch Claudius; Hamlet glances at Horatio; he watches the king some more.
Finally, when the play has hit too close to home, the king rises and leaves the room. Hamlet stops the play, everything is thrown into utter chaos, and for a few seconds he hurls himself into an insane revelry, giddy with mad delight at what has happened. The scene is intense, cathartic and brilliantly staged.
And so is the rest of the play. “Hamlet,” directed here by Loraine Edwards, is the most clear, lucid performance of a Shakespearean play that I have ever seen. The dialogue is still Elizabethan, but sometimes you forget that, so realistic and genuine are the actors in their delivery. They seem to understand what they’re saying, and what it means, and therefore so does the audience.
We see the characters’ reactions to each other, which helps us understand the nature of both parties. We see Hamlet’s grief over his father’s death, and his anger at his mother for marrying again so soon — and for marrying his father’s brother, at that. We see every emotion, passion and feeling that Shakespeare intended, all vividly and powerfully portrayed.
The show is just over three hours long, with one intermission. I honestly didn’t want the intermission, so caught up was I in everything that was unfolding before me. I knew the plot; I even knew some of the dialogue — and yet this performance seemed completely fresh and brand-new.
David Morgan is amazing as Hamlet. The character is extremely complex, but Morgan plays him completely realistically. He seems like… a guy. Just a guy that you might know, who has an extraordinary set of problems in his life. He saunters around the stage. He eats apples. He drinks. You wouldn’t know he’s one of the most famous characters in the whole history of English theater — because he just seems so real.
Trish Reading gives a marvelous performance as Ophelia, particularly in the scene in which she has gone insane. This scene can easily be overdone and melodramatic, but Reading plays it with grace and dignity — again, realism. And when her brother, Laertes (Jeremy Hoop), finds out that she has died, we see true heartbreak in his reaction.
Chris Clark, who is a sheer joy to watch in everything I’ve seen him do, adds a spark to Horatio, bringing him to life and giving him zest. Chris Kendrick is simultaneously noble and monstrous as Claudius, his great height and deep voice helping him make the villainous king a fascinating character to watch.
The climactic sword-fighting scene, choreographed by D.C. Wright, is stunning. Not only is the fighting well-done, but all the other commotion — various poisonings and stabbings and what-not — is perfectly timed and executed (pardon the pun), causing the play to end with the audience not only at the edge of their seats, but overwhelmed with the sheer sadness of it all, too.
One of the greatest tragedies about this play is that no one is seeing it! Audiences have been small for the first few performances. If you have ever considered seeing a Shakespeare production, see this one. If you haven’t considered seeing a Shakespeare production, change your mind and THEN see this one. It is not to be missed.
I will concede that Shakespeare is one of the greatest playwrights of all time, but I am not one of those people who worships him and assumes that ALL of his plays are great. "Romeo and Juliet," for example, doesn't impress me very much -- I think the title characters are underdevloped, for one thing, and morons are always cast as Romeo, for another thing -- although I guess that's not really Shakespeare's fault, is it?
Anyway, my point is, "Hamlet" is a "classic" play that actually IS great. So many things are considered "classics" merely out of tradition, and not because they actually warrant such a description. "Hamlet" deserves it, though, and this production really did justice to the play.