Review: Hamlet (Hart House)

Hamlet, photo provided by company

Hart House takes on Shakespeare’s most famous drama with Hamlet in Toronto

Shakespeare’s classic play Hamlet is essentially a story of tragic irony, betrayal, murder, madness, and obsession–told by a man who thinks and speaks too much. I was amused to discover tonight at Hart House that it’s also the source of numerous modern-day expressions: “The lady doth protest too much”, “To thine own self be true”, and “Murder most foul” to name but a few.

You may be thinking “this is news to someone who reviews theatre?” Yes. It was. While I studied Shakespeare in high school, I was more into Romeo and Juliet. And nothing else. I’m now acutely aware that Shakespeare maybe isn’t my thing. However, that only detracted slightly from my enjoyment of this show.

First off, there’s the venue. I see a lot of independent shows in tiny theatres, and I adore those shows and spaces. Seeing a classic like Hamlet in an old, Gothic, classic-looking theatre –huge for what I’m accustomed to –was grand and dramatic. In fact, my favourite aspect of tonight’s show was how the cast fully utilized the space in creative ways.

The industrial, under-construction style staging complimented the modern take on the classic play (and I am directly quoting my companion Nadine’s take on it): “an upper-crust college kid in a dysfunctional power family.” The way they played with lighting, shadows, and the space itself delighted me. I found the modernity– interwoven with the original dialogue–seamless and at times hilarious.

While my companion’s least favourite aspect of the show was having the cast roam through the aisles at times, I found it exciting and unpredictable. I never knew when someone was going to come roaring up behind or beside me (and we were warned about this before the show began).

I found the cast insanely energetic and talented, especially Hamlet (played by Dan Mousseau). Nadine and I both loved the performances. It’s important to note at this point that I didn’t really understand much of what was happening vis-a-vis the dialogue. Thankfully, we looked at a Hamlet primer before going in.

If I had studied Hamlet–as I was supposed to–I feel that I would have enjoyed this production much more. I think it says a lot that I enjoyed it as much as I did despite being lost most of the time. My least favourite aspect was the dialogue: namely the long, incessant monologues. However, I thought it was brilliantly delivered, and not something I can blame on this production.

To see or not to see? If Hamlet and/or Shakespeare are your thing, I’d say go for it! I’d strongly urge anyone who hasn’t the studied the play to read up on it beforehand. I was mostly clueless, but still enjoyed myself. If you’re not into monologues, or Ye Olde English, or Shakespeare, you might want to spend your three hours elsewhere.


    • Hamlet is playing until November 21, 2015 at Hart House Theatre (7 Hart House Circle)
    • See website for showtimes
    • Ticket prices range from $15 – $28, with $12 student tickets every Wednesday, and are available online, or through the box office at 416-978-8849
    • Note: use of fog machine and loud noises
    • Runtime is 3 hours, and includes a 20 minute intermission

Photo of Alan Shonfield, Dan Mousseau, and Dylan Evans by Scott Gorman

4 thoughts on “Review: Hamlet (Hart House)”

  1. I’ve been reading reviews here for awhile, and for the most part find them well done. This has got to be the most appalling review I’ve ever read. Why would someone who knows nothing about Shakespeare review Hamlet, of all plays?!

    1. Hey Chris,

      You’ve hit upon one of the most controversial aspects of Mooney on Theatre, so — if you’ll allow it — I’d like to give you a wordy answer.

      Something we try to emphasize in all that we do is that we consider ourselves to be enthusiastic amateurs: while we have an immense respect for the work of critics (and other writerly types) who come at the task of reviewing by emphasizing their experience, professional knowledge, and insider credentials, we feel that there’s a constituency who isn’t served by that approach. That constituency is our audience: people who do not consider themselves to be “theatre people”, and who may even be turned off by the “stuffiness” and “cloisteredness” of the industry, but are nevertheless interested in the performing arts and would like to explore theatre (dance, storytelling, comedy, etc.) at greater depth.

      Jess is not a Shakespeare scholar, absolutely. She’s a fine writer and one whose work impressed us at this summer’s Fringe festival, but she’s never claimed to be baseline familiar with Hamlet — and that’s fine, because when it comes to the people to whom Hart House is hoping to sell tickets, a great many of them won’t have touched a Shakespeare play since high school, if they’ve opened one at all.

      That perspective is valuable, not just because we think all perspectives deserve to be heard, but because we’re uncomfortable with the idea that you need professional-level knowledge of a production before being allowed to know whether or not you enjoyed it. After all, a great many people have had negative experiences inside a theatre, only to have them subsequently compounded by insistence that they “ought” to have enjoyed it, and are somehow deficient (barbaric, juvenile, ignorant) for having failed to attain that state.

      Many of the points Jess raises in her review are valuable, especially to the constituency I discussed earlier in my comment. For example, if she found the text difficult to follow, and the sheer volume of monologues to be a bit much to bear, then this information may be invaluable for a ticket-buyer bringing a similar background to the production. An expert on the text would have had a very different experience, but that’s not much help to someone at her level of expertise — a level which she repeatedly acknowledges and emphasizes throughout her review.

      I do not mean to sound dismissive in saying this, but if you are operating at that higher level — if you’re coming at this play from a more learned and expert background — then there’s a deep list of other sources for analysis: among others, I expect we’ll hear from Holger Syme (chair of English and Drama at U of T), Lynn Slotkin, one of Steve Fisher’s people from Torontoist, and perhaps Now Magazine on Hart House’s Hamlet. Were this not such a busy week for openings, we’d also potentially add J. Kelly Nestruck and Robert Cushman to the list.

      These perspectives are extremely valuable, and many of us will read them with interest. But for the constituency we hope to reach, we feel that Jess’ perspective matters just as much.

      Mike Anderson
      Contributing Editor
      Mooney on Theatre

  2. I hear where Chris was coming from in his review. I understand his perspective IF in fact this was a review site intended for solely the exclusive theatre crowd. I am grateful, however, for the nicely interjected context from Mike because I really enjoy reading the well constructed range of reviews on Mooney – especially those that connect with my mid-30 year old non-theatre-expert self.

    I see shows because I think they’ll be fun. We all have the ability to be a critic, but only some are given the privilege to share their critical examination with the masses. I might not be well-versed in theatre jargon and professional criticisms, but I do know what’s enjoyable – or has the potential to be enjoyable – for others similar to me. That’s what I especially love about Jess’ reviews generally, but this one especially.

    Tell me, in plain-but-well-strung-together words, why or why not I might find any particular show (Shakespeare or not) to be worth my time and money. Heck, if my perspective could also add value I might consider approaching Mooney myself to write my own reviews, but then I would likely come under fire for my excessive love of the Oxford comma, parentheses, made up words, and hyphens everywhere. Well done, Jess! And well done Mike! That was an upstanding response 🙂

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