The Ludger-Duvernay hall at the Monument-National, Canada’s oldest theatre, was a fitting venue for the National Theatre School’s production of Hamlet. Shakespeare’s longest play, and arguably his most influential tragedy, was gracefully staged by the school’s graduating class of 2016. The young actors were directed by Alisa Palmer, an award-winning dramaturge and producer in charge of the school’s English section.
This staging of Hamlet featured quite a few stylistic choices that made it memorable and innovative. First, the cast was finely balanced among gender lines. The roles of Horatio and Guildenstern, two of Hamlet’s boyhood friends, were played by actresses. This gave the play a contemporary feel that was matched by the streamlined set design and illumination. This vibe was also reinforced by the costume designer’s choices. Skinny jeans and tailored coats looked particularly modern thanks to their dark tones and the youthful cast wearing them.
Perhaps the most interesting flourish of creativity was how Hamlet was played by both a male and female performer simultaneously on stage. Given that Hamlet is Shakespeare most loquacious character, it makes sense to split his lines. But there’s more than that going on here. Throughout the play while one of the actors took center stage to recite the lines, the other one stays in the background gesturing and contemplating the scene. For a character like Hamlet, whose emotional register ranges from ecstatic melancholy to mournful euphoria, the idea of a dual Hamlet is Palmer’s most evident masterstroke.
Alice Snaden’s performance gave the audience a taste for Hamlet’s internal contradictions thanks to her elegant rendition of the prince’s monologues. On the other hand, Tim Dowler-Coltman’s cathartic energy in key scenes was responsible for the darker aspects of the Danish royal.
Overall, this was a great production with notable performances and great quality in terms of production and design. This year the school is using a Pay-What-You-Think scheme for seats, and this is a great way to support emerging Canadian talent while enjoying outstanding theatre.
Hamlet took place February 23 to 26, 8PM. February 27 3PM. Ludger-Duvernay Theatre, Monument-National.