HAMLET by William Shakespeare, directed by Joseph Ziegler, with Albert Schultz, Nancy Palk, Patricia Fagan, William Webster, Oliver Becker and Ziegler. Presented by Soulpepper at the Premiere Dance Theatre (207 Queens Quay West). Runs in rep to October 1. $32.50-$51.50, student $25, limited same-day rush $18, youth $5. 416-973-4000. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Hamlet is all about acting, in both the theatrical and non-theatrical senses - whether to do it, how to do it, why to do it.
Shakespeare 's most famous work, and probably the best-known play in the English language, gets an intelligent and often engrossing production by director Joseph Ziegler and the Soulpepper Company . The text is by and large clearly understood and finely communicated, the narrative swift and driven.
I wish, though, that this version had as strong an emotional appeal.
Ziegler's opted for a simple production, with a design by Peter Hartwell that emphasizes the theatrical nature of the piece - several low platforms, minimal furniture and a backdrop made up of the back of what look like stage flats. Actors "offstage" frequently sit on the side of or behind the action, watching and listening to what's taking place.
Albert Schultz captures the complexities of the tormented Danish prince, the contradictions that move him from hesitancy to impetuosity, from compassion to anger; we never doubt we're in the company of a witty philosopher. He first presents a man who indulges in his emotions in dramatic fashion, heightening them without fully feeling them, and grows - after the play-within-a-play scene - into a man who finally understands the link between thought, feeling and action.
Schultz gets some fine support. William Webster 's Polonius is clownish in public, steely in private, Oliver Dennis makes a sympathetic Horatio and Nancy Palk a Gertrude unaware of the intrigue around her. Patricia Fagan communicates Ophelia's increasing isolation, beginning in a sweet temper and progressing, in her madness, to an angry one.
There are good contributions in smaller roles, too, such as Andrew Moodie 's commanding Player King and the lightly comic Rosencrantz and Guildenstern of Sanjay Talwar and Derek Boyes .
Both Oliver Becker 's Claudius and Seann Gallagher 's Laertes, though, need more weight. The former's lacking an edge of menace and the occasional sense of despair, and the latter's too stiff.
Ziegler, who also offers nicely contrasting performances as a solemn Ghost and a playful Gravedigger, gives a strong flow to the piece, including some seamless scene changes.
Something, though, goes awry in the last few episodes, which have a perfunctory quality. The play's climactic scenes should make us care even more about the characters, touch us and make us reflect on what we've seen. Instead, they're little more than a wrapping up of the story.