Theatre Review: Hamlet – a win/win for both actor and audience

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There may be something rotten in Denmark, but certainly not at the Havana Theatre last night as The Honest Fishmongers Equity Co-op presented an engaging production of Hamlet that helped us forget we had just spent nearly three hours in the small confines of this indie theatre space, on chairs that have seen better days.

Having just recently suffered the loss of his father, Hamlet (Rhys Finnick) has watched as his mother Gertrude (Marci T House) has quickly moved on and married his father’s brother Claudius (David Bloom), making Claudius the new king.  Following a visitation by the ghost of his dead father (Michael Fera), who tells him that Claudius was his murderer, Hamlet sets out to prove what he is told is true. 

This is a sweeping story, with a multitude of characters played by the rather small cast, which in addition to the actors already mentioned include Simon Webb, Joshua Reynolds, Julie McIsaac, Sebastian Kroon, Katherine Gauthier, Lee Vincent, Kevin Bennett and Courtney Lancaster.

Of course this is Hamlet’s show to make or break and Rhys Finnick rises to the occasion to give us a brooding but calculating Hamlet that so immerses himself into the role that in the end we are surprised, even though we know the truth of his madness.

Rhys Finnick in The Honest Fishmongers Equity Co-op production of Hamlet.  Photo by Kaitlin Straker.

While not a weak link in the cast, there are definite highlights.  Simon Webb provided such a depth and ease to his portrayal of Polonius that it was simply wonderful to watch and Marci T House as Gertrude was mesmerizing as the Queen caught between her loyalty to her new husband and the love for her son; House’s death scene at the end of act two was enough to elicit a tear.  Julie MacIsaac gave us such a contrasted Ophelia that our hearts broke as she falls into madness upon discovering her father has been murdered.

Director Kevin Bennett, who also does double-duty on stage, effectively places us inside the world of Hamlet quite literally with help from set designer Jennifer Stewart who wraps the entire theatre in ghostly white sheets. From time-to-time actors would be heard but not seen as they moved about the space just outside the curtains behind the audience; this worked particularly well in the scenes where Hamlet’s father first makes his appearances. 

At times the actors would deliberately brush across the backs of the audience adding a physical interaction that was also echoed on stage in certain scenes.  I must admit though that breaking down that fourth wall felt a little gimmicky – in two scenes I jumped in my seat as an actor brushed against me or grabbed me from behind the curtain – much like the recent proliferation of 3D movies.  And while the actors who touched audience members, spoke directly to them or shook their hands did it with a natural ease, I am still not convinced it was necessary.

Costume designer Christopher David Gauthier provides a regal military look with blacks and browns and a splash of reds providing effective differentiators for those actors playing multiple roles.  Although some of the materials appeared more contemporary than others, they still worked well in providing a rich and lush design.

Few could argue the challenges of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, for both audience and actor.  Fortunately, the cast of The Honest Fishmongers Equity Co-op production of Hamlet rises to their challenge, ensuring it is a win for us.

4 Out of 5 Stars Hamlet
Havana Theatre, 1212 Commercial Drive
17 November – 11 December 2010

Tickets are $15 available at Tickets Tonight or by calling 604.684.2787.

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