Some reflections on Hamlet, the play
You may have noted that I did not name this article "a review", as I normally do for local theatrical productions. Hamlet is already a well-known play by William Shakespeare, hence it would be senseless to regurgitate the story-line; so I will focus on the techniques applied and the skill of the actors and actresses.
After two years on the road travelling all over the world, the group's wealth of experience and professionalism easily caught the attention of theatre goers here and those who, for the first time in years entered the hall of the Arawak House Culture last Sunday to view a performance of a lifetime by "Shakespeare's Globe", a theatrical group founded by pioneering American actor and director, Sam Wanamaker. For sure most of the patrons were not disappointed by the intrigue and professional execution of lines, body language, and suspense and the music.
The simple set constructed with what appeared to be a number of large rectangular and square- shaped heavy-duty luggage cases, a few pieces of wood ( 2x4s),a screen up front and some musical artefacts hung in the back drop. This basically was it!
At 7.05pm, almost nonchalantly, some of the actors appeared on stage as if putting things in place in the full view of patrons, screens wide open. A few picked up their instruments, the violin, flute, accordion, symbols and a couple strange instruments probably representing the era in which the play was first staged almost 500 years ago. What was thought to be a casual feel of the stage and testing of the instruments, amidst the sound of music, an actor made the announcement and the play began.
During the first 10-15 minutes, I must say, the varied British accents were difficult to comprehend but as time went on I began catching entire lines and slowly, sentences, followed by the essence of the production facilitated by the expertise and body language of the actors. Surely this play was not for everyone as one had not only to contend with the uncommon accents, but the loaded and colourful Shakespearian language and expressions of the 16th Century. Thus, a more than average vocabulary and an ability to grasp that which is witty were all prerequisites for the audience. I trust the schools that were invited and persons, who study Hamlet, or any other of Shakespeare's plays, grasped the essence of the production. Hamlet, in brief, was a tale of treachery woven by King Claudius (played by Keith Barlett), who murdered his own brother, Hamlet, to attain the throne and the tall and elegant Queen Gertrude (Miranda Foster), his wife.
All Shakespeare's plays do have an element of romance and Hamlet's was Ophelia (Jennifer Leong) while Horatio (Bruce Khan) and Laertes (Tom Lawrence), acted as friend and foe, respectively. A sword fight, poisoning, coupled with the death of the scheming King Claudius leaves Horatio to mourn and relate the tale as fateful revelations and poisonous treachery accounted for four deaths in quick time.
One of the new dimensions brought about in this three-hour classic was the sound effect which was orchestrated by the actors and actresses themselves on stage, and their ability to double up as musicians and actors and still switch various roles. The props were also manipulated using simple planks of wood to portray a boat, entrants and exits of the players while the cases represented rank, status and speakers.
There was no lighting effect or drawing of the main curtain at the Arawak. Time stood still, night or day, probably representing the conditions and available settings at the courts in which these plays were first performed. The actors even on occasions, as in a solitary magic trick, got the audience involved as is often done in popular theatre.
The wardrobe took us back to the times when the sword was the prominent weapon used to defend honour and so it was used to that effect.
There were some mythical events of haunting and ghosts and even the dead Ophelia coming back to life to explain to (my favourite actor) her father Polinius (John Dougall) whose wit and the crafty nature of his lines really ignited the full house. Hamlet (Ladi Emeruwa) himself was brilliant and fluent in delivering his lines as he battled with reality and his dilemma of love for Ophelia and revenge for his father's death which earned him the "mad" label.
The one-night-only production of "Hamlet" by the Shakespeare Globe Theatre Company and presented as part of the 7th Annual Nature Literary Festival and Book Fair was a one-time classic which I am happy I experienced. At the end, the standing ovation given to the 12-man cast and crew was quite in order.