One town, two Hamlets

(Prince Fortinbras (Tom Lawrence), standing, orders the removal of the bodies of King Claudius (Keith Bartlett), left, Hamlet (Ladi Emeruwa) and Queen Gertrude (Miranda Foster) while Horatio (Beruce Khan) looks on in sorrow in the final scene of the Globe Theatre afternoon production of Hamlet.)

Timing and circumstance prevented me from doing a proper review of the Globe Theatre’s production of Hamlet in Prescott Saturday, at least in my usual journalistic space.

The lover of literature, however, cannot be silenced.

This is hardly a full review, to be sure, but I cannot let a visit of this importance pass without a nod to the skill of the Globe’s actors, both in conveying a visceral and engaging Hamlet, and in doing so with such a minimal crew and minimalist props.

This Globe to Globe crew is travelling the world, performing in places as varied as the Prescott amphitheatre and the United Nations headquarters.

Little surprise, then, that they have figured out how to deliver a gripping Hamlet with only the bare minimum.

What struck me most, however, were the similarities between this globe-trotting band of players and the players we are used to seeing in Prescott on a midsummer’s night.

It could not but strike the regular St. Lawrence Shakespeare Festival patron the moment our British guests began their production with a song to rally the audience. This has become a time-honoured practice at the local amphitheatre and one could hardly tell the difference.

The similarities continued in the way these actors interacted, subtly and less so, with the audience, the way they slipped, almost unnoticed, from their roles to those necessary background functions of sound effects and prop management, and indeed the seamless way they moved from one persona to another.

(This was most daringly achieved, in this Hamlet, during the play-within-a-play scene, when King Claudius and Queen Gertrude transformed from their “actual” selves to their satirical mirrors with only the movement of a curtain.)

This world-class crew, then, has confirmed for a local audience the level of skill our usual summer guests possess.

In some ways the Globe’s Hamlet was reminiscent of the version of the play the St. Lawrence Shakespeare Festival gave us last summer.

In the afternoon production, which I saw, Keith Bartlett and Miranda Foster conveyed quite the same King Claudius and Queen Gertrude as we saw last year, while Phoebe Fildes seemed to echo Shannon Taylor’s rendition, last year, of Ophelia’s mad scenes, while capturing her girlish innocence earlier in the play.

Two glaring differences, however, were immediately apparent.

First, while Eric Craig last year gave us a mostly phlegmatic Hamlet, Ladi Emeruwa, who played Hamlet in the afternoon performance Saturday, delivered a choleric version.

Both rage and brooding depression are, of course, facets of Hamlet’s character, while the rest is a matter of emphasis, so it was a privilege for local Shakespeare lovers to see both versions played from one season to the next.

The other difference was the inclusion, in this Globe production, of the Fortinbras subplot.

Last year, director Rona Waddington excised the story of the young Norwegian prince, who is convinced to attack Poland but leave Denmark alone, to remove a political distraction from the play and focus solely on Hamlet’s internal struggle.

The Globe gives us a more comprehensive version, and while it did, indeed, lengthen and complicate the story, it also gave the audience a chance to grasp the full breadth of this timeless play.

The value of this political subplot is in giving the brooding Hamlet a chance to expostulate on the futility of war.

One hopes the good people at the UN are listening when Hamlet, observing Fortinbras head off to war against Poland for a worthless scrap of land, remarks:

“Witness this army of such mass and charge
Led by a delicate and tender prince,
Whose spirit with divine ambition puff'd
Makes mouths at the invisible event,
Exposing what is mortal and unsure
To all that fortune, death and danger dare,
Even for an egg-shell.”

It was a privilege to be included on the Globe to Globe map, though our time with this Hamlet was, alas, too short.