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Saturday, January 8, 2011

Review: Hamlet (solo)

...I never knew Will, but...
by Amy Barratt

For me, the test of any Shakespeare performance is: would the Bard himself have liked this? ‘Course I never knew old Will personally but I like to think he would care less about elaborate costumes and rotating platforms than about whether the story comes across. I’m sure he wasn’t above cutting scenes from his own plays when he found the action dragging. A lot of people complain they just can’t get the Shakespearean language. It’s been my experience that if you’re watching actors who get it, then you get it. 

Which brings us to Raoul Bhaneja’s rapid-fire, two-hour delivery of Hamlet, in Hamlet (solo), playing at Centaur as part of the Wildside festival. Bhaneja does not linger, as some actors do, over clever turns of phrase, trying to make sure we get them. His is an enormous verbal task but it is possibly an even greater physical one. His performance is a study in playing the intention, and just saying the words. 

There were a few spots during the performance where my mind wandered,  or my concentration was there but I still couldn’t quite figure out who was speaking, but for the most part, it’s astonishing how much the actor conveyed on a bare stage, dressed in blacks against black curtains. The stylized physicalities he has worked out for each character  - Gertrude lays her hand over her heart, the King’s ghost has a Darth Vader wheeze  - would make sense to any audience, anywhere, in any century. I was amazed at how much Bhaneja’s face seemed to change between one character and the next.

My 12-year-old date for the performance –daughter Georgia – often felt overwhelmed by the language, and yet when I would set about explaining something: “he’s going to have the troupe of actors perform a story that mirrors the murder of his father…” she would answer, “oh I got that.” Bhaneja’s interpretation, directed by Robert Ross Parker, reminds us that, in the presence of an actor who knows where he’s going, we need to let go of the language and just enjoy the ride. 

Hamlet (solo) is part of the WildSide Festival.

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