Snowglobe Theatre is getting ready to bring their modern interpretation of the classic Shakespearean tragic hero Hamlet to Espace Knox in Montreal next month. Karan from Montreal Rampage had a chat with the play’s director Peter Giser
Karan: Hamlet is such a well-known story, what aspects of your version is going to be a fresh take on this story that has been told so many times before?
Peter: The biggest reputation this play has is that it’s about someone who never takes action and spends the play thinking a lot, and we are taking a major departure from this interpretation. Our Hamlet is engaged in a very dangerous situation, fighting for what he believes but has to be very careful in what he does and whom he can trust. And in all this turmoil our Hamlet is also something else you wouldn’t expect – funny and playful. This humor is actually a broader feature throughout our production, and despite the general idea that tragedy is sad genre, we have made sure that the play is above all fun to watch. It was very important to us to create a balance between the serious and the comic rather than to let it be too dark. Shakespeare intended his plays to be entertainments, and we have aimed above all for the story to portray Hamlet as being a highly energetic and entertaining person. Perhaps the most important fresh element in our production is that the script is an original adaptation of Shakespeare’s work, cut down by 90 minutes from the full version, highlighting certain elements that speak to the reason we do theatre in the first place. If that sounds mysterious it’s because we don’t want to spoil the surprise – but we will say that one famous character in the play has a significantly expanded role compared to other productions.
Karan: Revenge and loyalty have been some of the core themes of the narrative of Hamlet and most often the ones that take centre-stage. Can you speak to these themes and if your interpretation of the play somehow ties these themes to a social issue that we are facing today?
Peter: Both revenge and loyalty are very much focused on in our production, and their connection to life today is one of the reasons Snowglobe decided to put on Hamlet in 2019. The question of revenge in particular is extremely sensitive in today’s world: what is the correct way to deal with those would do us violence, whether terrorists, dictators, or even those politically opposed to us? Is violence the best response to violence? Can a dialogue be reached with those who don’t value life as we do? Is there a way to help stop violence in the world short of joining in the killing? The story of a revenge tragedy usually centers around how to take the revenge – but what about the question of whether answering killing with killing is even helpful? And this ties in with the issue of loyalty, because the worst thing in facing fearful opposition is to find yourself alone, unable to trust those closest to you. Whether we think of having to deal with scary realities in life, psychological problems, or even everyday struggles, having to do it alone would be a burden for anyone, no less someone like Hamlet who’s had almost everything taken away from him.
Karan: One of the most critiqued aspect of any artistic production these days is the casting, the crew and if issues of diversity are addressed adequately in making these decisions. Can you speak a little to how this production navigated these issues, both in terms of casting the principle leads and the people who were made part of the creative team?
Peter: To be honest, we hired the best team we could and cast the best actors for each role, with our top priority being to offer opportunities to emerging talent and to offer them professional experience while working alongside veteran performers. We try very hard to look at the talent and creative excitement in a person and work with them based on that, so that we can have a strong ensemble feel to our productions. One thing in particular in Shakespeare that is a difficulty is the relative lack of female roles, so we did gender-bend some of them to balance that out. The level of our Montreal talent speaks for itself, because we have a very diverse cast, including veterans of Montreal community theatre, recent acting school graduates, and professional actors, with a strong emphasis on diversity of all kinds, and with a very wide age range among the cast members. In our efforts to show that Hamlet is not only fun but also for everyone, we hope that our diverse cast will also show the inclusive nature of Shakespeare. The cast is well-represented from both genders, as well as from different backgrounds including black, white, Asian, First Nations, European, and of course a full complement of local Montreal artists. This production has a special focus on women’s roles in a male-dominated kingdom, and touches upon how much women are abused by those in power. And yet we also explore how even through that abuse they can still manage to find their own ways to voice their needs and take some power.
Karan: Hamlet is a tragic hero in English literature. What does it mean to be a tragic hero in the 21st century? Do you feel there is still some relevance and/or resonance that an audience watching Hamlet today would have with a tragic hero?
Peter: The whole idea of a tragic hero is supposed to be that it’s timeless, but since tragedy is often seen as an old-fashioned type of play it can be hard to imagine how a tragic hero has any relevance today. But it’s today that a figure like Hamlet is the most relevant, because anything that is true for all of us can unite us together. It’s in finding what we have in common as human beings that we can realize that in coming together we can be stronger than in trying to find fault with each other. It will sound especially strange to mention that tragedy, out of all genres, is supposed to be the most uplifting, but this can only be true when the tragic hero shows us the truth of a situation that we can all recognize. When the hero is alien to us we can still be entertained, but not much more; but when the hero resonates with our own difficulties we can see how much we need heroes that do not win, but strive to overcome impossible situations anyhow. How many of us today want to believe that if we just say the right thing all of those who argue with us will come around? Or how many believe that if we defeat the other side we can finally have progress? But a tragic hero shows that there are some situations that cannot be resolved; some situations that cannot be won. Hamlet in particular faces a situation where not only is it unclear whether he can make it through five acts without turning into the thing he hates, but it’s not even clear whether his choices will significantly affect the outcome either way. We can surely recognize the unpleasantness of a situation which seems not only unfair, but also where we’re helpless to affect it, and in such times the question becomes not what to do, but how to be.
Karan: The Espace Knox has its own history of putting up theatrical productions. Was the choice of venue conscious for Snowglobe Theatre and if so, why was this venue chosen?
Peter: Espace Knox is a relatively new performance space, and from the moment we first saw it we fell in love with it. It’s a converted church but with a unique look to it, with pillars and arches already reminiscent of a castle, stained glass, and a structure that is majestical in its own right. Snowglobe had been considering Hamlet as a potential project, and when we saw EK it became clear that the time was perfect for Hamlet and that we had to do it here. Because we’re using EK’s actual structure for our playing area, rather than narrowing it down to a smaller elevated stage, we have an enormous playing space allowing us to have different areas of action, and even at different elevations. It also gives the actors the chance to really move in the space, even running across the playing area in some of the more action-oriented scenes. But despite the impressive feel of the church, the acoustics of the space, along with our seating arrangement, allow for great intimacy in some of the scenes. If there’s one play that deserves to be seen in an exciting new space like EK, it’s Hamlet! We’re thrilled to be able to present this piece in such a visually attractive space.
The show will be playing at Espace Knox (6215 Godfrey Ave on May 2-12. Tickets HERE.