Staff Writer/Fact Checker/Editor
Shakespeare BASHd’s biggest season yet is soon coming to a close, and Artistic Director James Wallis says, “we’re reaching ambitiously this season, so let’s finish it off with a bang.” What’s this “bang” he speaks of? “Having done King John, Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth, Hamlet seemed like the next logical step,” reveals Wallis.
The theatre company is known for its modernized, passionate and simple staging of Shakespearean classics that emphasize the words being spoken and the character dynamics, all while remaining true to the original source material. Hamlet will be no different, as according to Wallis, we should expect to see a lively and clear production that draws much of its story from the actual text, which he describes as gracious.
Of course, there will be quite a few changes in the interpretive approach to the piece, the most striking of them being the setting, which will give the play an almost chamber piece feel, characterized by intimacy. “Having it set in a bar definitely changes the expectations for what the production is, and it sets parameters for what we’re able to do,” explains Wallis.
Considering how notoriously long Hamlet is, significant cuts were necessary. Included in these cuts is the character of Fortinbras, which results in the absence of the play’s political aspect, but as Wallis points out, “as soon as you take something away, something else becomes more prominent,” that being the characters’ relationships within Helsingør, Denmark.
Wallis says that cross-gender acting, another prime feature of this production, will “highlight things in the play that may not have always been highlighted,” and this is made evident by the company’s unique casting choices. “We have a fantastic actress by the name of Jennifer Dzialoszynski playing Laertes, which I’ve never seen before. (Megan Miles and Jade Douris) play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in this production, so (you will see) how the women in (Hamlet’s) life are affecting him and how his reaction to them is affecting them.”
Wallis admits that placing himself in Hamlet’s shoes is “different than usual” and “a bit of a crapshoot,” but nevertheless, he says he believes that the ability to achieve greatness in the role is a landmark in performing arts. He is fascinated by the character’s drive and inner self, adding that, “the length and sense of how large Hamlet is of a part gives you a lot of opportunities to be different and to look at things in many different ways. I’ve never really touched a part that has so much soliloquy. I’m a big proponent of talking to the audience and really engaging them as much as possible, so as an actor, that’s a dream for me.”
His Hamlet, who is “intelligent, grossly alone, and even funny at certain moments, lives in a world that we’ve seen,” and because of that, “has a lot of great things to say,” Wallis adds.
This is a character who feels as though he needs to achieve something he doesn’t necessarily want to do. “The idea of vengeance isn’t something that I necessarily ascribe myself to,” he says. “(Hamlet’s) father’s ghost has challenged him with this cause, and I don’t think he wants to (harm) anybody. I think he’s a very angry person, (someone) who is lost in his own infuriating circumstances. I think he has a lot of trouble with the women in his life, especially his mother, and that unfortunately sort of permeates on the other people in his life, especially Ophelia.”
For Wallis, the greatest trial in this performance is being able to find and understand the meaning of these emotions that are so unfamiliar to him, in order to make clear to the audience what Hamlet is going through.
Speaking of clarity, Wallis hopes that the audience will be able to follow the performance closely, though he assures that audience members from all walks of life will find it accessible, thereby promoting discursive leeway.
“Hamlet is a very flexible piece of theatre that can affect people in many different ways, and the beauty of Shakespeare is ambiguity. The audience will make of it what they will, and that is a beautiful and the most important part of storytelling.”
Shakespeare BASHd’s Hamlet will open on Feb. 2 at the Monarch Tavern. For more information, visit http://www.shakespearebashd.com/.