Hamlet Live Toronto

You kind of have to be there for Hamlet Live

Hamlet Live is both a live theatrical performance of Hamlet and a livestream of the play for those who are unable to attend the performance in person. The play is set in 2080, in a post-apocalyptic world, and seeks to contend with issues of decay, madness and rule, motifs generally associated with Shakespeare's best-known tragedy.

I admire the ambition of this undertaking: to be the most watched Hamlet in history (on account of the delivery method). A theatrical livestream event is groundbreaking in and of itself for small-scale productions, the likes of which we only see at movie theatres and performances at the Met for example. Stratford and BBC take note: streaming may be the way to increase your relevance and audience. Actor Kyle McDonald argues that livestreaming allows "audiences to find [live performance]. Theatre becomes open to those who can't afford it and to those who live far away." But my praise for this livestream ends here. Although I saw an early version (and thus later versions will have technical glitches solved), I much preferred the in-person play.

While the play purports to take place in 2080 in a post-apocalyptic world, little in the production conveys a sense of futurity, except for the pre-recorded portions of the play (trailers, interludes, the dumbshow, Hamlet's messages, ghosts and Fortinbras' entrance). Indeed these are the strongest aspects of production, with clear homages to the works of Taymor and Luhrmann in their texture and slickness. In person, there is so much more available to the eye. I discovered that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are in fact mutants, Siamese twins, and Hamlet's father wears a gas mask, features totally lost in the livestream.

The music is also good. The composers have done well to create a soundscape to guide the production. I think I heard echoes of Chopin's "Raindrop," and kept wishing for more music. The budget for this production was tight, with Ryerson providing the lion's share of support, both in-kind and monetary; all the actors are part of an equity co-op (each gets a share of the profits after costs are recovered). It's clear that most of the money went towards the very impressive and slick marketing of the production.

But Shakespeare is tough to do. The puppets and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are this production's mvps (played by Kevin Robinson, Devin Upham and Phil Borg, respectively). McDonald's Hamlet is too hammy for me, as are many of the other actors. Erynn Brook plays Ophelia well, making her Ophelia complicit with Hamlet to convey a stronger sense of their relationship. Ralph Small plays a sympathetic Claudius, often difficult to achieve. McDonald is strongest in those scenes with a comedic overlay and may indeed have a future in action. A nod goes to the use of silk aerials, which are particularly clever and effective in one scene.

Hamlet Live is stronger in aim than execution. Spend the extra money for the in-person show.

For information on future performances, check the schedule here.

Guest review from Sheetal Lodhia


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