Hamlet, Globe Theatre on Tour at the Folger Theatre

When the Folger Theatre was constructed back in the 1930s, the plan to rebuild Shakespeare's Globe on or near its Bankside location wasn't yet a gleam in Sam Wanamaker's eye.  There's something quite lovely, then, that the Folger is currently hosting the Globe's tour of Hamlet; it's not exactly a homecoming, but it's like checking into a magnificently personalized hotel room.  While, of course, the point of sending a show out on tour is that it can adapt to new spaces with ease, I felt a little smug that the Folger, at least, provides its own columns.

There's quite a lot to enjoy in this Hamlet, co-directed by Globe Artistic Director Dominic Dromgoole and Bill Buckhurst.  Jonathan Fensom has created a wonderfully unpolished world for the characters to inhabit, one that works in tandem with the talented ensemble of eight actors to savor the transformative artifice of theatre for the slightly-longer-than two hours traffic of its stage (was that sentence filled with too many cleverer-than-thou buzzwords? Was it? WAS IT??? too bad).  While your mileage may vary on this topic,  modern theatre has become far too reliant on spectacle and pizazz when one of the greatest joys of theatregoing is seeing actors ACT, seeing how they can transport an audience with their own bodies and talents instead of expensive effects and overwhelming production values.  It's a distinct pleasure to see modern theatre companies embracing Elizabethan staging conditions at places like the Globe in London and the Blackfriars in Staunton, VA, and then bringing those fruits of stagecraft out to the world.  Pro tip: Shakespeare wrote his plays for certain staging conditions and it turns out they work REALLY WELL when we use them ourselves to stage his plays (and to be honest, I wish the Folger remembered this on its own accord).  Dromgoole and Buckhurst give us doubling, shared light between the actor and audience, music and sound supplied by on-stage actors, a deceptively bare stage (there is, of course, a structure masking the 'real' backstage of the Folger, but it's cleverly designed as an open backstage area). Also? There's a JIG, people, a JIG and I am forever indebted to the Globe for bringing back this BEST of Elizabethan staging practices, A++.

The real strength of this production is its ensemble and their remarkable doubling skills.  Just take a look at your program when you walk into the theatre- Dickon Tyrrell as Claudius.. and the Ghost? AND the Player King?  Wait- howzat?  I'll tell you now- the entire play-within-a-play sequence is the best thing in this entire production. It's tremendously fun and the energy of the audience is palpable as we wait to see how they'll possibly pull it off when the same actors who are in the show are meant to be watching- and commentating on- it.  Watching actors appear and then reappear moments later as someone entirely different is wonderful to see.  Tyrrell's performance in particular stands out- I've never seen a Ghost I was so willing to listen go over the same old backstory. Instead of portentous overdramatics and arch warnings, we see a Ghost who tells his tale simply and earnestly, and the Ghost's simplicity rings unexpectedly true. It's very, very well done.

If there's any drawback to this Hamlet, it may actually be its Hamlet. STOP. LET ME FINISH BEFORE YOU JUDGE.  Michael Benz is doing great work onstage as the titular Great Dane, but for me, I never managed to form an emotional connection with his Hamlet. This Prince moves forward with great energy from scene to scene, letting the audience in on each soliloquy, but never quite letting us see the emotional stakes Hamlet claims to be motivated by.  Instead, we see the fast and straightforward progression of a good revenge story- not a bad reward, but I can't help but want more.  In my perfect Hamlet, we'd see all this and a Hamlet who tears my heart out by the time angels sing him to his rest, and alas- this was not that Hamlet.  BUT. It is still a VERY GOOD Hamlet.  There are so many good things in this production!  The doubling! The music and movement that tie the scenes together!  The wonderful reminder of how awesome theatre is!

The run at the Folger is sold out, but I managed to snag a standing room ticket that transformed magically into a front row seat. If you haven't already bought your ticket, THERE IS STILL A SHOT. This production is worth taking the chance.


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