By Alejandra Vargas Garcia
The universality of the feelings evoked in Shakespeare’s work is undeniable. Othello’s jealousy and self-doubt. Hamlet’s despair and search for justice. Yet, Shakespeare’s blank verse style can often be challenging for audiences to follow, and for artists to bring to life in a relatable way.
In Prince Hamlet, Director Ravi Jain assessed these challenges meaningfully and decided to shatter the mold in a number of interesting ways.
In Prince Hamlet, Director Ravi Jain assessed these challenges meaningfully and decided to shatter the mold in a number of interesting ways. For one, the cast is diverse and gender roles are challenged in this play. Hamlet and other traditionally male characters are played by strong female performers while Ophelia is played by a man. This is not new but it is highly impactful, largely because of Christine Horne’s excellent performance. Horne’s delivery is compelling. You are deeply connected to Hamlet’s frustration with her mother, her mixed feelings for Ophelia, her distrust and manic behaviour and her violence. Having Hamlet occupy a female body for the evening made the part more nuanced and relatable for me than ever before on a play.
These people mean business: they want you to change your perspective without changing the story itself.
Second, the production is bilingual. English and American Sign Language (ASL) are fully integrated throughout the play, which is rare. Not knowing ASL does not hinder one’s ability to appreciate Dawn Jani Birley’s powerful rendition as Horatio or the interplay between her and Hamlet all in ASL. It does however, serve as a valuable reminder of the different ways people experience art. This is the mark of gifted actors and thoughtful directorial choices. Before the play begins, actors introduce themselves in ASL. You are made aware early of the intentionality of the casting, the venue, the setup, even the costumes. These people mean business: they want you to change your perspective without changing the story itself.
The Studio at the National Arts Centre is the perfect venue for this production, enveloping yet professional. The staging was kept minimal with nothing but a wooden stage, smart lighting choices, and well-timed and appropriate music in the background. The costumes were modern and clean, another nod to emphasize the richness of the production was placed in the hands of the performers.
If Shakespeare’s work is daunting for you, note that this play does not attempt to simplify the story or alter the style or pace to fit these current times. The content is raw and graphic. If you decide to immerse in the experience you will be able to see Hamlet through an intersectional lens where sex, race, ethnicity, and accessibility considerations were examined carefully and challenged. The result offers audiences a more inclusive introduction to Shakespeare’s universe in all its complexity.
Performances of Prince Hamlet will run until March 9, 2019. Running time: Two hours and 45 minutes, including one intermission. Tickets (including live rush) are available online.