Good play, sweet prince
Jonathan Goad plays Hamlet at the Stratford Festival with the full range of emotions that the role demands. At various times he is confused and bemused, antic and pedantic, foul and befouled, vital and vengeful. The stage is spare, the costuming portrays a relatively drab 1914 era, and the special effects almost nil. None is required. In this Shakespearian play, more than most, the words are all.
And delightful words they be. I have to admit that I sometimes get lost and frustrated by the romantic comedies where there are three couples, some in disguise, and the dialogue becomes little more than word play. In Hamlet, the poetry advances the plot and unveils character, with words sounding all the while like old friends whispering in your ear.
This play has probably produced more phrases for everyday speech than any other of the Bard’s works. Here are just a few examples: to be or not to be, that is the question; to thine own self be true; to sleep, perchance to dream; brevity is the soul of wit; sweets to the sweet; the lady doth protest too much; something is rotten in the state of Denmark; and good night, sweet prince.
Goad is surrounded by an excellent cast. Adrienne Gould is a delightful Ophelia who masterfully plays her madness; as Horatio, Tim Campbell is a worthy friend; Tom Rooney is the appropriately picky Polonius. My only disappointment was with the usually reliable Geraint Wyn Davies. Too often, his back was to the audience, so his words were muffled. Otherwise, he was the suitably arrogant and self-satisfied usurper of the throne.
The play officially opens May 25. Yesterday’s performance was to a house that was only 60 percent full. I hope as word of mouth spreads, the numbers grow. Meanwhile, musicals continue to pay the freight for the rest of us to see the best Shakespearean drama in the world. At Stratford, musicals regularly produce two-thirds of the total annual revenue. This year, officials are expecting that The Sound of Music will yield as much as three-quarters of the total box office. Thank goodness for the von Trapp family or Stratford would be facing its own to-be-or-not-to-be moment.