Travel to Denmark this summer through High Park
A play so nice you see it twice, or 1.3 times as I have now, as opening night unfortunately rained out about a third of the way through the performance. Such is the drama of live and outdoor theatre. Typically, a reviewer is not afforded the chance to see a performance more than once, but it was wonderful to see the first part twice so that opening night jitters had been shaken off and the lighting I thought was a bit odd during Hamlet’s famed “To be or not to be” soliloquy was a mistake.
Shakespeare in High Park features a double bill of Hamlet and All’s Well that Ends Well this summer with a talented cast doing double duty that makes me think, “That’s a lot of lines to learn.” Compressing Hamlet into 90 minutes is no easy feat, however all the heavily quoted, oft taken out of context lines are packed into a well-paced and smooth flowing show.
Canadian Stage does an excellent job in its casting, particularly because they bring together a cast of strong actors that represent what Toronto and Canada really look like in a beautiful multicultural rainbow. Of note, Rachel Jones as Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother, brings subdued strength to a role that could easily be out shadowed by many screaming men on stage. In a more supporting role, Marvin L Ishmael is a scene stealer, particularly as the grave digger.
Rose Tuong as Ophelia was someone I wanted to like, as I love the character she plays. Unfortunately, overall the performance falls flat. Frank Cox-O’Connell as Hamlet brought a wonderful roller coaster of emotions. There was a nice crescendo in the aforementioned soliloquy which demonstrated great restraint. Cox-O’Connell, with the help of the bard, got some impressive laughs from the crowd, even in Hamlet’s madness. One doesn’t expect to laugh much in a tragedy.
The starkness of the stage and the effective use of levels when required was well served. Shakespeare in High Park productions are typically good at using the entire ampitheatre to draw in the audience. The duel, an integral part of the play, was very well done. Stage combat can often come off as very stilted and borderline silly, so you’ll appreciated the choreography here. Costumes suited their characters well, even if some of Hamlet and Horatio’s t-shirt choices (a skull and “Something’s rotten in Denmark” respectively) may have been a bit on the nose, but I would imagine a hipster Danish teen just so.
Join Canadian Stage this summer with Hamlet running Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday at 8 pm and All’s Well That Ends Well on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday at 8 pm. Seating is first come, first served and performances are pay what you can, with a suggested $20 contribution. You can also book advanced premium seating for $25 (comes with a cushion for the evening) at www.canadianstage.com. Don’t forget your bug spray!