If you want to experience an authentic Shakespeare play, get thee to the Broad Stage in Santa Monica. Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, visiting from London and quickly becoming a regular each season at this intimate venue, presents Shakespeare as you’ve never seen it. And though the current production of “Hamlet” is not in a faithful reproduction of the Bard’s open-air playhouse, it does have all of the other authentic details you can expect from this company, including the intricate attention to the text that is at the heart of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre’s unique appeal. And you don’t need to buy a plane ticket to England.
Shakespeare’s plays can be long and sometimes feel long. But this “Hamlet,” clocking in at about 80 minutes for the first half and an hour for the second, breezed by. Unlike several of the characters in the play, the energy of the players is simply undying. And for those who have only ever experienced a morose and dark “Hamlet,” Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre presents an authentic version, full of life as much as death, and humor as much as sorrow, as Shakespeare wrote it.
Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre’s past productions at the Broad Stage include a string a comedies. It’s an unexpected delight to find the energy of this tragedy as high as that of their comedies. The actors do an amazing job of highlighting every nuance of the text and finding every possible nugget of comic relief — while playing multiple parts. There are only eight credited actors in the program, and they work as an organic team, creating well-rounded, flesh-and-blood characters.
Michael Benz brings a fresh voice and a range of emotions to Hamlet; there is vitality in even the most famous lines and monologues. Dickon Tyrrell and Miranda Foster’s turns as Claudius and Gertrude and as the goofy actors in the play within the play showed off their great range. Plus, Foster was almost unrecognizable as the Second Gravedigger. Christopher Saul provided many laughs in his roles as Polonius and the First Gravedigger.
The actors also play instruments when they’re not speaking. Sometimes this is used to great effect, as when the eerie sound of a violin bow on a cymbal or the slow beat of a booming bass drum provides an almost cinematic score for an intense scene. Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre always makes entertaining use of music, whether it’s performing songs within the play, serenading the audience in the halls before the show or creating a lively ending to a tragedy that ends with four dead bodies, as in this play.
All of the outstanding elements of a Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre production — the acting, text interpretation, music and energy — blast forth from a minimalist set and nondescript costuming in this “Hamlet.” The basic, rustic wooden structure provides just the essentials to help the story, like a place to hang a curtain for Polonius to hide behind and eavesdrop on Hamlet and Gertrude. Meanwhile, the aluminum and pink canvas chair stood out like a sore thumb, but its symbolic intent was certainly not as obvious. The early-20th-century wardrobe in drab shades of gray, brown and green — with the exception of a yellow, though not especially cheerful, flowered dress for Ophelia — similarly did nothing to distract from the text. Color and elaborate design are not the ways this story is told.
For those reasons, Director Bill Buckhurst, as well as Giles Block, globe associate – text, and Ng Choon Ping, assistant text work, deserve a special shout-out along with the actors. Artistic Director Dominic Dromgoole has brought Angelenos another impressive theatrical experience and left us longing for the return of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre next fall.
—Julie Riggott, Culture Spot LA
“Hamlet” continues through Nov. 25 at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica. Visit http://thebroadstage.com/Hamlet or call (310) 434-3200.