When you see a version of Hamlet that leaves you wanting for more, the one that is spectacular is even more spectacular. Such was the case with Stratford Festival’s Hamlet at the Lunario on the Fourth of July. In the beginning, you sense, Hamlet, played by Jonathan Goad, would be wither a bust or a hit. He keeps the silence and you are waiting to see what this Hamlet will be. You find out that getting the audience to laugh, lean in, and sympathize with his character is not difficult at all, he starts off with no hint of extra spectacular ability and you begin to notice, he is able to play the lines, emotions, and swings of Hamlet perfectly and bring you along with every onrush of emotion. He easily stole the role of Hamlet and that was satisfying in itself.
Add to the character depth the ability of Claudius, played by Geraint Wyn Davis, and Gertrude, played by Seana McKenna, to continually frustrate and rise your ire, nonstop, with the disappointment you feel immediately in Gertrude, and the hatred building, building, building for Claudius, again played perfectly.
Tom Rooney as a very strange and quirky, fatherly, priest-Polonius is able to pull off the perfect shadow of someone Hamlet continually uses for sport and marvels at – a perfectly made and played character by Rooney.
Tim Campbell as Horatio, Steve Ross as Guildenstern, Sanjay Talwar as Rosencrantz, Brad Rudy as Barnardo, all an amazing job of being Hamlet’s allies as well as his foe at times. Their emotions, genuine and being foils to Hamlet, as well as bringing our Hamlet’s secrets, all played smoothly and invitingly on stage.
One disappointment was Laertes, played by Mike Shara. While he is a definite looker ladies, at times his emotions seemed forced, not genuine, and a little stiff. Reactions to Ophelia’s death were the biggest area I had problems with, yet the interactions with his father as well as sister, and rage at Hamlet all seemed to be right on par.
Yes, the gravedigger, absolutely great played by Robert King.
The players of the troupe – just the way you would want them, amazing, funny, dramatic they were also a show within itself. I remember the last Hamlet we saw, and it seems as if they were a secondary, and minor, aspect of the play. Not sure in this version of Hamlet, as you can feel the building up of tension as they get closer to bringing out the truth through the plot of their play, playing the conscience of Hamlet, on stage.
Then there is the magic of the Stratford Festival itself. I had the pleasure of going two years, and it is MAGICAL. The hotel with terriers and classic wooden floors, the four stages you can rotate plays, the magical Art in the Park show, the awesome Down the Street pub/cafe where you can catch the directors, players, and just the FEEL of being there during this festival, as well as the beauty of the town – you have to experience it. Having been lucky to meet Timothy Findley years ago, thanks to then SRU Writing Center colleague Carrie, I am lucky to have many many magical memories I hope to revisit at this Festival soon. I discover every time I witness Shakespeare, if done creatively, is similar to viewing for the vert first time.