Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Hamlet (Havana Theatre - 2010)

I love fresh interpretations of Shakespeare; it’s what keeps me interested, especially with something as well known as Hamlet. So I’m often impressed when a company makes a bold choice or uses dramatic staging and costumes. This play didn’t do that – instead they proved that you can make a play fresh by doing the small things very well.

This may be one of my favorite productions of Hamlet to date, and it was all in the details.  In a theatre the size of a railcar, with little set, and almost no costumes they created a fantastic Hamlet. The tiny theatre was draped in white fabric, isolating the audience and actors in their own strange world. The actors worked with the close quarters, integrating the audience and making them part of the action. Hamlet’s soliloquies are delivered in a pleading manner directly to the audience.  

Rhys Finnick’s Hamlet was younger and more vulnerable than any previous Hamlet I’ve seen. His Hamlet isn’t a mature philosopher; rather he is a confused young man who is overwhelmed by the task ahead. There were moments when you believed that Hamlet didn’t know his own motivation, but it played out as a young mans confusion, not a lack of understanding on the part of the actor.

Julie McIsaac was at turns feisty and heart-breaking as Ophelia, and brought wit and brains to the character in a way I’ve never seen before. Polonius (Simon Webb) managed to find a balance between humour, and actually being someone you could believe as the Kings advisor.  The play within a play was a highlight, full of over the top acting and overwrought gestures.

Each actor paid such attention to the lines, both their own and those of others. Throughout the play I had trouble deciding who I wanted to watch, their reactions to the lines were almost as good as the lines themselves. In addition the director had a number of the actors overlap their lines, adding a level of reality and a more conversational tone to a number of scenes.  Little touches and details made this play, and were what made it so excellent.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Staging Shakespeare

As something random I wanted to link to some of my favorite video clips about staging Shakespeare.

The first clip is from Stage Beauty, which is a so-so movie, but happens to have a great discussion of Othello, and in particular the death scene. Earlier in the movie there is a line where the female character says "I always hated you as Desdemona. You never fought! You just died, beautifully. No woman would die like that, no matter how much she loved him. A woman would fight!".

For anyone who hasn't seen Slings and Arrow, you are missing out. Anyway these are two of my favorite clips about how to stage Shakespeare. This first is directions to the actress playing Ophelia, and the second is to an actor playing Macbeth.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Top 15 - The Number 14 (Waterfront)

Okay, I’ll admit that my fondness for this one is partly based on my old Young Shakespearians teacher Mike Stark being it. Also, when they did the vignette about Shakespeare I was the only one laughing and he finally turned to the audience and said “come on people, it’s Shakespeare, if you don’t get it ask the girl laughing.” That said, when done well the Number 14 can be extremely funny, and it has a Vancouver flavor – since it was written about a Vancouver bus. It's a great play for anyone who has spent too much time commuting on public transit.

Top 15 - Measure for Measure (Bard on the Beach 1999)

There is something very creepy about Measure for Measure (it’s a story about the misuse of power, morals, and the nature of sacrifice) and this play was willing to embrace that, rather then pretend that it’s a more traditional comedy.  It was the first year for the Studio Stage at Bard, and like many of the best Studio Stage productions they were willing to take risks. It was a simple stripped down production, done in mostly modern dress, and it works for this play. It also starred David Marr and Dean Paul Gibson.  David Marr played an Angelo that was both slimy and sympathetic, and I can still remember his delivery of the line “ever till now when men were fond, I smiled and wondered how”.

Top 15 - Midsummer Nights Dream (Bard on the Beach 2006)

This was Midsummer Nights Dream done right – completely over the top, ridiculous, and unself-conscious. Puck looked like Billy Idol and was dressed in leather and a tutu, every dirty joke was played for all it was worth, and some scenes had a hint of improve that kept them fresh and funny. It was the perfect antidote to anyone who ever thought Shakespeare was boring and stuck up.

My Top 15 Plays

My Top 15 Plays
This list is my unscientific recording of some of my favorite performances. I reserve the right to change my mind – mostly if I remember a play I liked better. I will also post short reviews explaining why I liked these plays so much at a later date (ie, when I get around to writing them).

  1. Hamlet (Bard on the Beach - 2005)
  2. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (Bard on the Beach - 2005)
  3. The Anderson Project (Playhouse)
  4. King Lear (Stratford)
  5. Billy Bishop Goes to War (Arts Club)
  6. Midsummer Nights Dream (Bard on the Beach - 2006)
  7. Noises Off (Playhouse)
  8. The Number 14 (Waterfront)
  9. Measure for Measure (Bard on the Beach - 1999)
  10. Arms and the Man (Playhouse)
  11. Syringa Tree (Playhouse)
  12. Taming of the Shrew (Bard on the Beach - 2001)
  13. Romeo and Juliet (Playhouse)
  14. Life of Galileo (East Van. Cultural Centre - 1999)
  15. Glass Menagerie (Gateway -1998)

More recent plays: I haven’t had time to figure out if where these will fall in my list because a huge part of what makes these plays my favorites is that they last in memory. I've seen these too recently to make that call, but I think they deserve an honorable mention.

  • Death of a Salesman (Playhouse)
  • Hamlet (Havana Theatre)
  • Romeo and Juliet (UBC)
  • Vigil (Playhouse)