Review by Sean McQuaid
Ye olde reviewer has a long relationship with Hamlet, the iconic William Shakespeare tragedy. Like MacBeth and Julius Caesar, it's one of the first Shakespeare plays that I started reading for fun, not just for school, though it figured repeatedly in my schooling as well.
Heck, as an undergraduate full of hubris, youthful enthusiasm and Kraft Dinner, I even wrote a blank verse sequel to Hamlet: Horatio, starring the Danish prince's scholarly chum. That's how much I like Shakespeare's original tale of revenge, madness and rampant philosophizing.
ACT (a community theatre) mainstay Terry Pratt likes the play, too, though he modified it somewhat while directing ACT's late summer production of the show in Robert Cotton Park, ACT's fourth Shakespeare play in this venue. Pratt's revision trims about ten thousand words off the text, jettisons various secondary characters and trims the cast down to a mere eight actors, some playing multiple parts.
This textual crash diet works surprisingly well, overall. It slashes the running time from around four hours to under three hours, for one thing, and while there are deleted elements I miss—like the play's spooky opening scene, or the whole plot thread about rival monarch Fortinbras—what remains flows well enough that viewers new to the play won't notice any omissions, preserving the story's essential core.
Noah Nazim makes a memorable ACT debut as Hamlet. He's a bit overwrought at times, even by the standards of the part—his opening scene in particular feels a bit too intense so early in the story, before tensions have escalated all that much for either the characters or the audience by comparison to what's coming—but he shows plenty of range, energy and charm over the course of his marathon role, and is often fascinating to watch.
Richard Haines and Catherine MacDonald are both solid as dysfunctional monarchs Claudius & Gertrude, though Haines feels somewhat flat as the previous king's ghost, not so much ethereal as leaden. Gordon Cobb works well as royal advisor/ultimate windbag Polonius, all the funnier thanks to the baffled, irritated reactions he elicits from cast members like Haines and MacDonald, unspoken or otherwise—Pratt's cast are all good listeners, actively engaged in the action even when they are not the focus of it.
Clark's Horatio, metadramatically doubling as an interactive guide for the park audience, is effective in both roles and is a thoughtful, likeable presence. Good overall as Hamlet's ill-fated ladylove Ophelia, Lindsay Gillis is downright great in her madness scene, made all the more eerily, alluringly sad by her lovely singing voice.
But my favourites in the company are Kier Malone and Sara McCarthy, who play four roles apiece and make every one of those parts distinctive and entertaining. Malone, for instance, brings passionate emotion and impressive physical agility to the part of Claudius pawn Laertes, teaming with Nazim for some of PEI's best theatrical swordplay in ages; and McCarthy, great fun in all her roles, is the earthiest (sorry), funniest Gravedigger I've ever seen.
As he did with 2012's MacBeth, director Pratt uses the park's widely varying locales to great advantage with scenes ranging from fields to woods to beaches and back again, adding plenty of visual variety and atmosphere. There are even nifty bonus cameo scenes where you can see characters engaged in bits of business off to the side while the audience troops from one location to the next. All told, Pratt's slimmed-down Hamlet is an inventive, entertaining variation on the original.