Review by Thomas Gregory
One of the best things about seeing Shakespeare is the knowledge that, regardless of anything else, the script is amazing. One of the worst things is that, with how many times it is put on every year, it is difficult to find a production that does something different with it. Avid Theatre, in conjunction with Adour Theatre, has done just that: They have produced an interpretation of “Hamlet” I have never seen before: a melodramatic comedy.
Perhaps isn’t as signposted as well as it could be at first, with the over-the-top performances perhaps easily mistaken for amateur acting, and the intriguing set giving nothing away. As the play continues, however, one can appreciate the new takes on old lines, especially some of the radically new character choices.
Yes, we have seen “emo” versions of Hamlet before. One could even call Ethan Hawke’s famously panned version as such. However, Michael Fenemore’s prince is not just emo; he is next level. His performance could be described as Matt Berry, dressing like Gerard Way, playing Jimmy Pesto Jr - a stunning combination of extravagance, angst, and humour.
Other characters are equally innovative. In all my Hamlet watching years, I’ve never seen a Claudius as bumbling as Polonius or Rosencrantz and Guildenstern be the smartest people in the room. Hamlet is attracted more to the Player Queen than to Ophelia, and the death of Polonius had the audience laughing.
This new interpretation does come with its drawbacks. While Claire Baldwin does a fantastic job separating her characters, there is little chemistry between her Horatio and Hamlet. Away from her monologues, Charlee Liddell falls back into incredibly performed but naturalistic performances. The final sword-fight, choreographed by Lyndall Grant appears like it might actually hurt the players, and nothing like the ham-fisted duel it could have been.
While the set, with its dirty sheets, rope, and abundance of candles, may throw you off from this melodrama, the music brings it back. Notes of B-grade Horror movies and day-time Soap Opera romance join the scenes, often at the level of the voices themselves. The special effects of the ghost, with the performance being a projected video on the back wall, also detracts from the tone - Nicholas Opolski is one of the most horrifying ghosts in a low-budget production.
If you love Hamlet but think you have seen it all, if you are tired of the pedestrian interpretations as exampled by Bell Shakespeare’s recent fair, then this is a show you do not want to miss.