The recreation of the Globe Theatre in London has led to some very dynamic productions of William Shakespeare's plays. Using elements of original staging practices including a small company of actors that play multiple parts, brisk pacing and leaving the lights on so that a more intimate relationship exists between the audience and the actors, the Globe Theatre's touring production of Hamlet is now making several appearances in the United States.
This energetic company of eight actors presents Hamlet in a very brisk two and half hours. The language and story are clearly spoken and very accessible. Although some of the doubling can lead to confusion when an actor quickly grabs a costume piece or prop and instantly becomes another character, this is a rousing production that does not find all of the nuances of Shakespeare's great revenge tragedy. The tour began in the Elizabethan theater at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC. This theater has hosted professional classical theater for decades, but it was a nice change to see the Elizabethan theater's stage stripped bare exposing the natural lines of the balcony and posts that designers seem so eager to mask with contemporary design flair. That is not to say that the Globe Theatre's production does not have a set. It does, but it is an unobtrusive one that must by the nature of touring be flexible and portable. A simple wall with hooks for costume changes and seats for when the actors double as musicians and sound effects artists is coupled with curtains strung up with ropes across the stage. Simple scene changes are mostly unnoticeable with one glaring exception when the removal of a graveyard completely distracts from the scene played upon the balcony above the stage.
The company of eight are clearly well trained in classical renaissance theatre as one would expect. Yet, the fast pace hinders some of the performances. In particular, Michael Benz in the title role, does not show true depth in Hamlet's supposed madness, doubting nature or revenge until well into the second half of the performance after he kills Polonius (the appropriately buffoonish Christopher Saul). Miranda Foster and Dickon Tyrrell as Gertrude and Claudius are appropriately regal and the decision to have them double as the Player King and Queen turns out to be masterful. Carlyss Peer embraces the recent trend of making Ophelia's madness the embodiment of angry grief rather than anguish. The rest of the company in their myriad roles are delightful, yet the limitations of only using eight actors means that the subtitles of in-depth performance are not always there.
This is a rare opportunity to see members of the Globe Theatre company on this side of the pond. If you have the means to see this production make sure that you do so.
The Globe Theatre's touring production of Hamlet played the Folger Shakespeare Library's Elizabethan Theatre from September 8-22, 2012. For additional tour dates and other performance information please visit www.shakespearesglobe.com/theatre/on-tour/Hamlet and click on the links to the venues on the right side of the web page.