‘Hamlet’ at Folger Theatre by Natalie McCabe

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At the start of Shakespeare’s Globe’s production of Hamlet, the entire cast gathers onstage, with the lights up, playing instruments and singing a variation of “Little Beggar Man.” Later, in Act IV of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the title character reminds his uncle/step-father, “…A king may go a progress through the guts of a beggar.”  The idea that we are all merely players with ever-shifting roles is a theme echoed through this fantastic production, guided by skilled directors Bill Buckhurst and Dominic Dromgoole.

Michael Benz as Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark in Shakespeare’s Globe production of ‘Hamlet’,’ playing at Folger Theatre September 8 – 22. Photo by Jeff Malet.

In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Hamlet, the prince of Denmark, played by a witty, intense Michael Benz, struggles to revenge his father’s murder. His father’s ghost, (a stern Dickon Tyrell) informs him that his uncle Claudius murdered him in order to steal both his throne and his wife. Hamlet is in love with Ophelia, (played by a lovely Carlyss Peer) whose long-winded father, Polonius,(played by a benevolent Christopher Saul), and over-protective brother Laertes (a firm Matthew Romain) advises her against accepting the advances of a prince far above her station. After Hamlet sinks into melancholy and insanity, Gertrude (played by a sympathetic Miranda Foster) and Claudius summon his friends Rosencrantz (an earnest Peter Bray and Guildenstern (Romain)) who in turn summon a troupe of players to entertain the depressed prince. Hamlet seizes this opportunity to have the true story of his father’s death reenacted onstage. In his quest to make his uncle pay for murdering his father, Hamlet mistakenly kills Polonius, and Ophelia succumbs to insanity. Many of the characters get pulled into this tangle of revenge and still fewer survive.

This fast-paced version of Hamlet engages the audience from the start with the singing, dancing, and musical instruments played by the multi-talented actors onstage. The dance choreography is well done by Sian Williams and assistant Chloe Stephens, with fight choreography by Kevin McCurdy. Glynn McDonald is the Globe Associate for movement. The music is an original score by Laura Forrest-Hay with composition and arrangements by Bill Barclay. Additionally, the multiple roles played by the talented actors enhance the show’s quick pace and maintain the audience’s interest. For example, Tyrell also plays Claudius, the dead king’s brother, as well as First Player and Player King.  Bray multiplies as Marcellus, Prince Fortinbras, and Osric. Foster does triple-duty as Second Player and a humorous Second Gravedigger.

Tom Lawrence, in one role as Horatio, gently embraces Hamlet in the latter’s death and plays other roles including Reynaldo and Captain. Peer also plays Voltemund, while Romain plays four roles, including Bernardo and Lucianus, as well as those mentioned above. Saul plays a befuddled Player as well as Francisco, First Gravedigger, and Priest. Each actor brings new, fresh passion to their multiple roles. Their energy is especially palpable during the Players’ scene, with nearly every actor onstage save Hamlet literally running around in their guises as multiple roles in the same short, entertaining scene.

Jonathan Fensom’s set tears down the illusion and reinforces the fact that the actors are all players, intertwining their stories with ours for a brief moment. His grey and dark green costuming blends perfectly with the play’s tragic nature and the dreariness of Denmark. Production Manager and Lighting Designer Paul Russell,  chooses to keep the lights up through the production; the audience is reminded at the start of the show that the actors can see us just as we can see them. This begs the question, “Who are the real actors here?”

Shakespeare Globe’s production marks the sixth time that this theatre company will be touring through the U.S., for good reason. Something may be rotten in the state of Denmark, but this production of Hamlet will refresh your spirit and leave you wishing, for once, that this Shakespearean play ran a little longer.

“Get thee to a nunnery!” Hamlet (Michael Benz) pleads with Ophelia (Carlyss Peer) in Shakespeare’s Globe production of ‘Hamlet,’ playing at Folger Theatre September 8 – 22. Photo by Jeff Malet.

Running Time: Two hours 30 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission.

Hamlet plays now through September 22 at Folger Theatre –  201 East Capitol Street, SE, in Washington, DC. Washington, DC.  Purchase tickets here or by calling (202) 544-7077. Directions to the theater can be found here.