For many of us, Hamlet was our first introduction to Shakespeare. We come to any performance marked by the ghosts of favorite actors and concepts, never able to fully be open to the play. Enter the clean, refined vision of director Joseph Haj to help you see the play fresh. From the very first moments, fast-paced and full of danger, to the wrenching final image, we know something is different in this state of Denmark. It’s a decidedly contemporary jewel-box of a production, and one I highly recommend.
Playing now through June 6 at the Folger Theatre, this Hamlet is highlighted by the stunning set design of James Kronzer and a heartbreaking lead performance by Graham Michael Hamilton. Your first sight of the all-white set’s striking modernity contrasted with the Elizabethean background of the Folger is a beacon of the director’s mission – let the simplicity of the text shine through. Everything is laid bare here, in grim tones of neutrals and grey, just as Hamlet bares his inner thoughts to us in the famous monologues detailing his struggle to avenge his father’s death.
And it’s fast. I don’t think I’ve had the pleasure of seeing a more effectively streamlined Hamlet (definitely not the four-hour Branagh version I sat through at the RSC years ago!). Purists may be upset at some of the cuts, but it serves the purpose well here to do some judicious snipping. But it’s not just the cuts that drive the action – Haj allows the ensemble few moments of rest, setting a pace that doesn’t labor but flies. Too often productions of Hamlet take the view that the prince is waffling, procrastinating – here, he’s moving briskly along on his search for truth, battering at the roadblocks in his way. Continue reading