Too often these days Shakespeare productions, particularly those of hits like Hamlet, fall victim to a certain degree of gimmickry and contrivance. It’s Hamlet, they say, but set against the backdrop of World War One, or the Holocaust, or it’s Hamlitron: Prince of the Robot Danes from the year 2654. You get the picture. The quest for a creative reinvention too often turns into a glorified stunt, at the expense of this historic and enduring work.
So it is the major strength of Hart House Theatre’s solid production, directed by Andrea Wasserman and starring Jeremy Hutton, is that it plays the classic straight and does it well. There aren’t any Baz Luhrmann-esque pop culture references, experimental lighting or sound designs. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern aren’t portrayed as suicidal, gay or astronauts. It’s refreshing.
Hutton plays Hamlet like he’s been waiting for this role his whole life. He fills the part with the humor, intensity and tragedy it demands. He also manages to come off as surprisingly natural, and nails all the iconic lines.
While Hutton’s performance is clearly the standout, the acting is strong throughout without any weak links. Understated performances are rare in any production of Shakespeare, but this show proves they shouldn’t be. Even comedic roles like Thomas Gough’s Polonius and David Tripp’s Gravedigger are played with rare restraint, and are funnier for it.
In a few scenes the dialogue seemed a bit rushed, but it’s a long play and audiences have short attention spans, so there’s probably an implicit rush for the actors to get through the epic in under two hours.
The set, along with the lighting and sound design, was significantly less audacious than those of other recent Hart House shows, but suited the tone of the play perfectly. Remaining predominantly in the background and never taking the audiences’ attention away from the actors, the sets never provided less than was needed.
Wasserman and everyone involved should be proud to put on a decidedly un-flashy production that manages to get all the details right, from an exciting final sword fight to a genuinely creepy ghost to a cast who can actually, you know, act.
Hamlet runs at Hart House Theatre until November 25. For more info and tickets call: 416-978-8849