Apt613 is trying to see every show on opening weekend of the 2017 Ottawa Fringe Festival. Read more reviews at apt613.ca/fringe.
A Better Play Than Hamlet
by Lorne Elliott
Turtle Pond Theatre Productions
55 min / Comedy, Drama / G
What are the first words in Shakespeare’s Hamlet?
“Pure genius!” mocks a greying academic in a scholarly gown.
He begins to address us, the attendees of a university symposium on Hamlet. He also addresses the university’s Board, the Chairman of the Board, Dean Stinson, and Mrs. Stinson.
Responding to a proposal to drop Hamlet from the university’s syllabus, the academic launches into a diatribe in favour of said proposal. He calls into question whether Hamlet is the greatest play written by Shakespeare, the world’s greatest playwright. What follows is a standup routine à la George Carlin.
If Shakespeare was such a genius, why couldn’t he invent more names for his characters and avoid confusion? Instead:
- Hamlet’s father is … Hamlet.
- Hamlet Sr. and Claudius are both usually referred to as: the King.
- Fortinbras’s father is … Fortinbras.
Why are an Italian and a Spaniard guarding the battlements in Denmark?
How does the Fortinbras subplot move the main plot forward?
Why does a pirate ship conveniently intercept Hamlet’s ship on his way to England? Why do the pirates then simply transport him where he wants to go?
The jokes are funny. No wonder – the playwright is CBC’s Lorne Elliott of Madly Off in All Directions. The audience laughs in the right places. They participate on cue, delighting in opportunities to act as chorus.
But gradually something seems off. The academic starts to lose conviction. The thread of the argument unravels. At which point begins a subplot between the academic, the Dean and Mrs. Stinson. All is not as it seems. From this point the play grows ever darker. To reveal more would be to give spoilers.
Actor Rick Cousins delivers an initially comic and then dramatic interpretation of Elliott’s play. (Elliott’s wife asked Cousins to take Elliott’s place for this run at the Ottawa Fringe.)
I certainly found most of the script and the performance entertaining. But I do have two quibbles. My interest flagged in the 5–10 minutes prior to the subplot. The subplot reinvigorated my interest, but the script could be tightened up. At times, Cousins seemed uncomfortable filling Elliott’s shoes.
Elliott fans may be disappointed not to see him in the flesh. Fans of Elliott’s words should see Cousins’ performance.
A Better Play Than Hamlet by Lorne Elliott is playing at Academic Hall (133 Séraphin-Marion) until Sunday June 18, 2017. Tickets cost $12 online and at the door. Visit ottawafringe.com for the show schedule and box office info.