THE PRINCE HAMLET by William Shakespeare, conceived and directed by Ravi Jain and Katrina Bugaj (Why Not). Winchester Street Theatre (80 Winchester). To October 21. $25, Sunday mat pwyc, stu/srs discount. 416-262-3198. Rating: NNN
It takes a brave director to take on Hamlet, a braver one to reinterpret Shakespeare's best-known work.
Why Not Theatre 's Ravi Jain and Katrina Bugaj succeed in a number of ways. They flip scenes around, interpolate episodes in the middle of speeches, reassign lines and give the piece an unexpected chronology. Their use of choral work and shadowplay are also striking.
The thing is, if I've never seen the play before, can I follow it? Or if I know the play, do I see or understand it differently? The fact is, if you know the play you do have an advantage, because the final act's storytelling can't always be followed.
The text receives a clear reading by just about everyone, and at times the juxtapositions are striking. The directors, encouraging actors to give physical life to their roles, are fond of deliveriing film-style flashbacks and showing us what others are talking about. For instance, as Polonius tells Gertrude and Claudius about Hamlet's infatuation with Ophelia, the latter two can be seen flirting with each other on either side of the "main" action.
The technique succeeds, but it's overused, clever and striking the first few times, but not by the eighth.
The acting is mixed. Philip Graeme offers a rather cerebral Hamlet, with little sense of the role's passion or humour. Kathryn Merry 's often spunky Ophelia is strong, and Matthew Bulgo gives Horatio an unusually direct, vivid quality; in fact, Hamlet and Horatio are the production's most believable pairing. Sean Donovan and Liz Pounsett lend little weight to Claudius and Gertude.