Prince Hamlet’s changes might confuse newcomers

PRINCE HAMLET by William Shakespeare, adapted by Ravi Jain (Why Not Theatre/Soulpepper). At the Theatre Centre (1115 Queen West). Runs.

PRINCE HAMLET by William Shakespeare, adapted by Ravi Jain (Why Not Theatre/Soulpepper). At the Theatre Centre (1115 Queen West). Runs to April 29. $5-$75. See listing. Rating: NNN

In reviving Prince Hamlet, Why Not Theatres first-ever production, director and adaptor Ravi Jain has added the unnecessary complexities of bilingualism and gender-swapping to an already complex text. Shakespeares tragedy is often defined by the actor in the title role. Christine Horne makes a sympathetic Hamlet, but she doesnt maintain the characters intense air of cynicism and punishing self-doubt that should underlie all he says.

In 2007, Jain had heavily cut the text, reordered the scenes and reassigned some of the dialogue.

Now hes made it bilingual in English and American Sign Language. Hamlets dying words to Horatio are The rest is silence. Perhaps for this reason Jain has Horatio (Dawn Jani Birley) played by a self-identified Deaf actor.

Jains reconfigured text situates Horatio as the omnipresent narrator of the otherss actions. Birley’s signing is only occasionally spoken by another actor, but she signs so expressively that translating her lines into speech is largely superfluous.

Jains other change from the 2007 production is to gender-swap all the roles except, quite inexplicably, those of Claudius (Rick Roberts) and Gertrude (Karen Robinson). Gender-swapping has the positive result of allowing actors to play roles otherwise closed to them, but to be effective it should also somehow help us interpret the play. Since Hamlet, unlike Shakespeares Twelfth Night, is not primarily about male and female roles, it seems that this partial gender-swap is done more for the sake of change than insight.

Though the overall acting level is high, only Maria Vacratsis as a wryly funny Polonius knows how to speak the verse as poetry rather than prose and to wring out the full meaning of words through careful pauses or emphases.

Jain has brilliant ideas like having Hamlet also speak the unseen Ghosts lines as if possessed, and having Claudius pray to himself at a mirror. Yet with Jains odd choices like staging the duel with all characters seated, except Horatio we realize that this adaptation of Hamlet is aimed at those already thoroughly familiar with the play, since Jains changes will likely confuse any newcomer.

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