Review: Mad comedy in Snowglobe Theatre’s “Hamlet”

New adaption of Shakespeare's revenge tragedy plays at Espace Knox from May 2-12

Chance Jones-Sauray as “Hamlet” (Photo courtesy of Snowglobe Theatre)

“Something is rotten in the state of Denmark”, but spirits are fair and fresh in this classical – yet original – theatrical adaptation of one of the most influential, well-known, and produced works in all of world literature.

Tackling Hamlet in and of itself is a gutsy undertaking, but it firmly bookends Snowglobe Theatre’s 2018-2019 artistic season as its most ambitious production to date. The endeavour furthermore establishes the rising indie company’s repute as a faithful producer of the Bard’s works (recall “Much Ado About Nothing” as its inaugural piece) – a cherished player in Montreal anglo theatre.

Shakespeare’s haunting masterpiece of vengeance, murder, greed, power, and loyalty is given traditional and tasteful staging by director Peter Giser (here assisted by Lowell Gasoi and Laurie Dumont-Bal). Period costumes, somber lighting, and minimal sets/props reconstruct the elegant austerity of Elizabethan theatre. Espace Knox is a winning choice of venue with its ornate architectural elements: stained glass windows and palatial arches form the natural backdrop. Flickering candelabras hint to a ghostly presence. A flourish of trumpets goes off and echoes through the vast hall space. We are thus transported to Elsinore – and now intimate witnesses to the unfolding narrative of a prince straining to avenge the untimely death of his royal father.

Michael Loewen as Laertes and Kateryna Fylypchuk as Ophelia in “Hamlet” (Photo courtesy of Snowglobe Theatre)

The five-act play (Shakespeare’s longest) is here condensed to a swift-moving three-hour affair (including one intermission) featuring a diverse performing ensemble of twenty-two (which includes three musicians). It’s a no-frills, streamlined, and digestible production that leaves the script and its actors to their devices. The product is a largely well-behaved show for conservative critics – although it does take its chance in casting.

As the eponymous protagonist is, indeed, Chance Jones-Sauray in a highly effervescent, bold, and charismatic performance. Physical and primitive, he provides a vivid dramatization of Hamlet’s insanity. “An hysterical subject” we see – and a humorous one at that. Hamlet can be played to the austere, but Giser directs the classic and its centrepiece character to its mad comedy.

However, in the dynamic young actor’s portrayal we miss the philosophical contemplation, the melancholic grieving, the sinking into introspective soliloquy, and the complex internal struggle with the “delay”. Jones-Sauray is entertaining in his erraticness (and hip hop flair), but showmanship oft precedes profound, conflicted meditation on life and death. He furthermore plays fast and loose with original material, jarring to even casual Shakespeare fans. It is difficult to conceive this wildly impulsive and fearless Hamlet in any inhibition, repression, and hesitation to act out revenge; it’s an interpretation planted less on decision inertia and driven more by our tragic hero’s “antic disposition”.

Arun Varma as Horatio and Chance Jones-Sauray as Hamlet (Photo courtesy of Snowglobe Theatre)

The company is wholly commendable, however, in its mandate of nurturing sparkling emerging talents, those of which here also include Kateryna Fylypchuk (Ophelia), Michael Loewen (Laertes), Arun Varma (Horatio), Will Fech (Barnardo/Lucianus), Duy Nguyen (Marcellus), Chloé Bilodeau (Rosencrantz/Guildenstern), Zamera Amy Topolovec (Gravedigger), lo’Takeratenion Thomas-Beaton (Osric), George Chaaya (Player Queen), and Arthur Anderson (Ghost voice).

It is the assemblage of stage veterans, however, that shine bright in this pleasant rendering. Lowell Gasoi as Claudius, King of Denmark, makes for a Machiavellian politician (and murderer) – plausibility corrupt, calculated, and conniving. As the chief counsellor Polonius, Lars Lih is delightfully garrulous. In his turn, Clive Brewer is a vigorous presence as The Player King. Bruce Lambie, alongside Bilodeau as courtiers Guildenstern/Rosencrantz (the actors swap roles each night), are featured highlights.

In an adaptation that positions women as victims of abuse (and love) in a man’s kingdom, Leigh Ann Taylor glimmers as an understated Gertrude. Notable mention is also extended to Fylypchuk as a delicate, vulnerable Ophelia in her oppression.

Snowglobe here resists getting indulgently inventive with the Bard, graciously presenting before us an accessible adaptation of a timeless human story. Themes of political intrigue and of the nation as a diseased body make for a particularly germane and urgent production. Particular note of references in Hamlet to astronomy, religion, and the theatre itself spark new reflection and discourse on a familiar piece. Declamation of verse with live original music (credits to composer Gabriel Frank), raw fight choreography, and energetic performances seal the sell on an enjoyable outing. Performances run through May 12th.

Snowglobe Theatre presents Shakespeare’s Hamlet
Performances: May 2-5 and 8-12, 2019 at 7:30 pm
Venue: Espace Knox (6215 Avenue Godfrey)
Running Time: 3 hours (including a 15-minute intermission)
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