We all know about pirated music, but what about pirated Shakespeare? Taffety Punk’s production of Hamlet is not the story we all know so well, but rather, a gripping depiction of a highly contested, early copy of Hamlet. It is shorter in length, rougher in language, out of plot sequence, and even has an extra scene! Some say the version is a touring edition, some an early version, and others say it is simply a pirated copy of Shakespeare’s timeless classic. Whatever the script itself may be, Taffety Punk’s rendition of the play is brilliantly daring and definitely worth a watch.
What is meant to be? This bizarre, wonderfully unnerving, and absolutely riveting show.
There were a number of things which really made this play work as a production, even with a “bad” script, a small space, and minimal props and set. Each of the players seemed perfectly cast and well up to task in taking on their multiple speaking roles. Marcus Kyd, in fact, is the only cast member who plays only one character, but the tormented Hamlet swings through so many different moods at a mind-boggling pace that Kyd might as well have played at least three characters, too.
Kyd’s portrayal of Hamlet was appropriately hectic and distressing and perhaps a little loud, but also a bit heartbreaking as you caught glimpses of what a king he might have been had he lived and not been swallowed up into madness and plots. Daniel Flint’s portrayal of the angry, restless ghost of Hamlet’s father gave me a serious case of heebie jeebies, and made a fantastically sharp contrast to his rendering of the cold and calculating king who usurped the throne.
Jessica Lefkow, Dan Crane, and Teresa Castracane all took on many colourful roles, filling out their many characters so richly that watching them was like riding a carousel as a child–delightfully dizzying and packed with fun I didn’t want to end. Esther Williamson in her role as Ophelia, and Jim Jorgensen as Corambis (who is actually called Polonius in the version of Hamlet as we know it) who really stole the show. While Williamson plays her other characters well, her Ophelia was devastatingly real and heartbreaking. I’m fairly certain mine were not the only teary eyes in the room as we witnessed her deterioration following the death of her father, coming so swiftly after her cruel rejection by Hamlet. Williamson’s rendering of Ophelia is not as an object of pity, but a being of tenderness who gets tragically crushed, and she sings the broken strands of song just right.
Jorgensen’s Corambis, on the other hand, was just so belly laughing funny as well as vivid that I wanted him in every scene. He carried this flamboyant characterization into his other personas as well, introducing us to poor Yorick as the gravedigger, and coming again onto the scene as a rather random gentleman who, for showing up only once, had a remarkably full personality.
Much of what really made this production work was the choreography, lighting effects, and costuming. The time period in which the play takes place is a little vague, perhaps allowing the audience to jump in and engage in the scenes more easily, but definitely giving more room for fun in the costuming. Outfits had a little bit of Shakespeare and a whole lot of steampunk to them; and here, as fabulous as the outfits (especially that of Hamlet and Gertrude) were, the costuming of the ghostly dead king was my favourite. It was so deliciously creepy that the memory of it stalked me the whole way home.
It is also in the depictions of the ghost that lighting effects and choreography can be seen; the ghost would not have been half as effective even in that costume without the lighting designed for his eerie presence and the ghostly tangle of weblike bonds chaining him to his un-life and ensnaring Hamlet.
With the cast carrying so many different characters between them, the choreography very definitely helped to set scene and differentiate between characters. It also really created the atmosphere in which the rest of the production was absorbed, as the characters stalk militantly across the stage, moving across bars of light: shadows and myths and questions of being all breathing in and out in a strange dance ritual the actors would occasionally move to.
Hamlet, The First Quarto is a script that may not have been meant to be, but what is meant to be? This bizarre, wonderfully unnerving, and absolutely riveting show. Whether you are an ardent lover of Hamlet, never really “got” Hamlet, or have yet to see it at all, you should go check out this possibly pirated version and enjoy a night of fascinating fun.
Running Time: 2 hours, 30 min, including a 15 min intermission.
Advisory: Shakespeare’s adult language and themes; some violence and murder.
Directed by Joel David Santner. Written by Shakespeare. Emily Marquet, Assistant Director. Donna Reinhold, Stage Manager. Daniel Flint, Stage Design. Chris Curtis, Lighting Design. Tessa Lew, Costume Design. Beauty Pill, Music. Paulina Guerrero, Choreography & Production. Mehdi Raoufi, Sound Design. Dan Crane, Fights and Sword Master. Ensemble, Prop Design. Anna Lathrop, Tonya Beckman, James Flanagan, and Kathryn Martin, Production Assistants.
Hamlet, The First Quarto is playing through May 23, 2015 at the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop, 545 Seventh Street SE, DC. Click here for tickets.