I love the idea of seeing a classic story in a new way and Ravi Jain’s masterful adaptation and direction of Hamlet, spins this well known tale into a dynamic theatrical offering. I have seen countless productions of Hamlet over the years but in this production, I heard parts of the script with fresh ears. Jain has opted to cast a female in the title role as well as changing the genders of several other roles but perhaps the most exciting aspect of this reimagining, is the use of ASL by one of the central characters.
The staging was minimalistic with a central playing area in the middle surrounded by mounds of earth circling the stage. Some of the characters would dig into the piles or kick them or submerge their arms into the earth. There were also a few large mirrors on the back wall and some scenes were played out to great effect in the glass, with the audience watching the characters reflections as well as their own. All action including sword fights were mimed and done in a stylized fashion, I am not sure the fights landed as dramatically as they would have with actual swords and because of the slow speed of the fights it at times seemed comical.
Andre Du Toit’s lighting was properly dramatic and created a wonderfully gloomy landscape on the stage. Thomas Ryder Payne’s soundscape did not enhance the dialogue and in a small space, it was often too loud and overpowered the performers voices. They were many times I struggled to hear the dialogue.
The performances were uneven and different stylistically. Christine Horne has some powerful moments as Hamlet, I particularly enjoyed her ‘to be or not to be’ speech. It had an emotionality and vulnerability that I haven’t seen in other productions. She seemed to drop into the character more as the show went on. I wish she had gone further playing the ghost of her father and in her madness. Miriam Fernandes brought so much life to the stage in her various characters but was especially hilarious as the Gravedigger. She milked a bit for so long and her commitment had a huge pay off. However, it was Dawn Jani Birley playing Horatio and the ASL and Visual Translator that captured my imagination. She gave an extraordinary performance that was moving, powerful and full bodied. I have never seen anything quite like it. It’s a hard balance for the other actors on stage because when she was signing, she stole focus. She is absolutely captivating.
I have thought often about how cool it would be to see a show that incorporated ASL in such a way that both hearing and non hearing audiences could experience the same show. Signing is such a beautiful and animated language. I hope other theatre makers continue to come up with new and exciting ways to make theatre more inclusive and to tell the stories of all people.
This play is worth a look because it’s a unique adventure and it will leave you with much to think about.