Review: Hamlet

Princess Hamlet’s Slow Descent into Madness at Shakespeare in the Park

Melissa Blank (Hamlet) ponders the imponderables with a worried Sarah Anne Murphy (Horatio) in the background.

 

Something is rotten in the state of Denmark, and Hamlet is determined to get to the bottom of it, no matter what it takes.

In this summer’s “Shakespeare in the Park” series from the Victoria Shakespeare Society, one of The Bard’s most famous works is given a twist, which adds layers of new meaning to the dialogue as Melissa Blank portrays the character of Hamlet as a lesbian.

Although the gender-switch is confusing at times, as the original script leaves little room for any commentary on a lesbian main character, the juxtaposition of placing a female straight into a traditionally male role twists the subtext of many of Hamlet’s interactions in an interesting way. Blank’s female Hamlet is a very complex character, at times raving mad and vengeful, but with a painful vulnerability underneath. She carries the heavy role with confidence, and her strong stage presence fills the outdoor set with drama and intrigue.

The brooding daughter of the King of Denmark stews in existential grief throughout the play, as she knows something is not right with the way that her uncle Claudius has so quickly taken over the throne and married her mother after her father’s death. Her father’s ghost confirms Hamlet’s suspicions that Claudius is a cold blooded killer, and she crafts a plan in which a travelling performing troupe re-enacts the murder under the guise of a humorous play, so that she can spot the telltale signs of guilt on Claudius’ face as he watches. This begins a disastrous spiral of events, which end in a dramatic duel to the death.

Director David MacPherson has cut the four-hour epic into a two-and-a-half-hour production, focusing on the action scenes that move the play along and give it the exciting pace of a violent thriller. The famous scenes that we all know and love are included, such as Hamlet’s “to be or not to be?” soliloquy, and the creepy gravedigger scene where Hamlet muses over mankind’s mortality as he holds the skull of Yorick, the former court jester.

The play is enacted in a natural setting within the Garry Oak meadows of Camosun College campus. The stately gnarled oak trees make the perfect backdrop. The light of the setting sun enhances the mood as the darker the surroundings get, the more dire the situation at the Danish Royal Castle becomes. When the grassy stage is finally plunged into full darkness in the second act, the action begins to escalate until all hope of a peaceful resolution is lost and the ground is littered with multiple dead bodies. M

Tickets are $16-$22 and free for children 13 and under.

Be sure to bring some change as parking on the campus for the evening will cost you $2.50.

Wear long pants, because once the sun sets, the meadow begins to fill with mosquitoes that will hunger for your blood as intently as Hamlet seeks revenge on her uncle.

 

By Kelly Dunning

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