SANDBOX THEATRE PRODUCTIONS, Culture Lab (The Cultch), June 7th- 24th 2017
My Two Pence
My Two Cents
By Penny Warwick
Director J-C Roy makes no secret of the ambition of this production, being his first full length Shakespeare in the role of director he muses “If you have to direct something, why not go huge?” Whilst I am inclined to usually applaud this devil-may-care attitude, unfortunately there is a reason why directors usually start with less ambitious projects, and Sandbox Theatre Productions’ Hamlet is probably a striking example of this.
The opening of the show is an somewhat awkward slow-dance-love-scene between Hamlet and Ophelia. I really like the idea of what was trying to be achieved here, showing the existing relationship and love between the pair that we do not see in the writing, but there is no chemistry between the actors and they seem to have a hesitiation in what they are doing which makes it feel uncomfortable to watch.
This is a feeling which went on to inform most of the play. Each cast member had at least one moment when they had an ease and authenticity within their role, but this was undone by incredible feats of over-acting. It is a shame that the Shakespearean language somehow provokes this problem, this is not my first Shakespeare, and not my first Hamlet – with so many quotable lines and ubiquitous speeches it is understandable that performers feel pressure to deliver. But passion doesn’t always mean shouting. Madness doesn’t always mean giggling and running around mumbling. An interesting irony was watching Claudius and Gertrude deliver the play which Hamlet has written for their undoing – here we see the actors as the characters acting as the characters from the play, it is directed with a sense of comic relief as we see the ‘non-actors’ acting the scene horribly… I must confess, to me it worked in an opposite sense, in that I quite liked the control shown by the performers in this ‘play’ amongst some wildly fluctuating performances.
One of the most curious directorial choices was that of Rosencrantz and Gildenstern who popped out onto the stage much like Thing One and Thing Two (of Dr. Seuss fame) unashamedly wily and bouncing with energy. I was confused about what age the characters were supposed to be. I have a great dislike of seeing adults playing children badly on stage, but Rosencrantz and Gildenstern are not children so I am left quite baffled and not understanding what was going on with this choice. It was bizarre to watch.
There are some big wins for Sandbox Theatre in their fight choreography (Ryan McNeill Bolton/Sylvie La Riviere) which was tight and performed with gusto and a simple but effective staging and set design (J-C Roy). Unfortunately inconsistency is key in this production which feels laboured and out of it’s depth. Hopefully Sandbox Theatre’s unconventional approaches will serve them better in future productions.
By Kelly Monkton
There are so many strong ideas and moments in Sandbox Theatre Production’s Hamlet. During the play, I was excited about many choices and impulses from the performers and creative team. It felt like the ideas needed more commitment and/or development to really succeed.
The show started with a prologue set to contemporary music. I enjoyed the chance to see Hamlet and Ophelia flirting, and Hamlet learn of his father’s death on his cell phone. This idea of showing us unwritten important moments in the show didn’t continue, and the music was barely a part of the show afterwards. We alternated between hand-written letters and smart-phones at different moments in the show, which was jarring.
Another moment that took me out of the story was Polonius’ death. I enjoyed many of the befuddled, verbose moments Tatiana Robinson had, and cross-casting her was a great choice. Unfortunately, it was hard to believe that Hamlet seriously mistook her cries behind the curtain for his uncle Claudius. By contrast, Tara Webster often spoke quite low in her voice as Horatio, which didn’t seem to serve a clear purpose in the story.
Hamlet is a lengthy play, and cuts were made to keep it within three hours with the intermission, which I appreciated. Unfortunately, the pacing still felt rushed, with actors often spewing out lines at a speed that was barely intelligible, even with the modern North American pronunciation used. This feeling of ‘hurry’ often meant the characters didn’t take time to think and process what they heard before they responded to new information. There were tears and raging anger that felt abrupt, because the actors didn’t have (or make) time to build to them believably. Honestly, I would have gladly stayed an extra twenty minutes in exchange for more thoughtful behaviour onstage.
Many cast members doubled very effectively as multiple characters. I enjoyed seeing a new side to Lloyd Darling, Ryan Caron, and J-C Roy as the priest and gravediggers later in the play. Bringing back Ophelia as a ghost was a bit more challenging, and distracted from the characters who were still living. Ghosts in general were handled in ungainly ways in this production, with spirits possessing some characters, and some ghosts having elaborate makeup but others none.
There is so much potential in Hamlet, and I want to emphasize that there is no lack of talent here. With more time to feel comfortable in the pacing, and more clarity in the interesting decisions made, I could imagine this really hitting the mark.