I loved Ann-Marie MacDonald’s Hamlet-911, directed by Alisia Palmer on the Studio Theatre stage as the Stratford Festival. Even the steady rain this past Tuesday didn’t dampen our pleasure for this fast-paced, socially-conscious, deconstruction of Hamlet. I knew we were in for a theatrical roller-coaster with the initial ‘catcall’ as one of the cast started to warn the ladies and gentlemen to turn off their phones – the catcall was that not everyone in the audiences identifies as either & then the sincerity of the land acknowledgement was questioned by another ‘catcall.’
The ‘plot’ of the play & the play within the play, the dream within the play – are all irrelevant to the powerful messages about masculinity, alienation, suicide, electronic social isolation & sobriety that were delivered with humour & inventive staging.
Mike Shara as Guinness Menzies, playing Hamlet conveyed the smug entitlement of a popular TV actor cast as Hamlet – a production that casts his wife as his mother in the play – a clever reflection of the incestuous undertone of Hamlet & his mother. Confused? As 911 plays out on stage everything is logical & understandable.
Scott Wentworth as Rex Menzies, Guinness’s father, also the Ghost of Hamlet’s Father – gets a juicy monologue as he rages about the political-correctedness of colour & gender blind casting, amongst other things, while he lauds the founding of the festival in tents. He parodies the very sort of pompous Shakespearean actor he might be himself, off stage. Hilarious.
Equally as hilarious, but given too late stage time, was Sarah Dodd as Guinness’s mother. Her ‘he’s back, he’s gone’ was pitch perfect & also set us up for Guinness’s misunderstanding the she tells him ‘he’s gone’ when Rex dies.
Gordon Patrick White as the ghost of poor Yorick, echoed both the ghost of Christmas past & Lear’s Fool – he also seems to be the spirit of the Festival itself. Like the spirits in Christmas Carol he leads Guinness though events in his past to a moment of self-realization.
The four, or is it five, minute fast-forward version of Hamlet was astounding & nearly brought the audience to its feet with applause. Brilliant piece of staging. Though it might help if one had seen a full performance of Hamlet before. But even if one hadn’t, the humour of this play is enough to entertain any audience.
The sheer joy of Hamlet-911’s theatricality was energizing & refreshing. The production was as much about ‘how to put on a play’ as it was about the plot & characters. It operated on so many layers of plot, stage craft, & the inability to communicate either f2f or online that I was amazed & delighted.
reviews of shows I’ve seen this past season: