Review: Shakespeare in High Park – Hamlet (Canadian Stage)

Photo of Rose Tuong and Frank Cox O'Connell in HAMLET by Cylla von TiedemannCanadian Stage presents the classic Shakespearean tragedy Hamlet in Toronto

As far as I’m concerned, summer in Toronto isn’t complete without an evening with the Bard under the stars. Every year, Canadian Stage comes through offering a comedy (in the form of All’s Well that Ends Well this year) and a tragedy (Hamlet) on alternating nights encouraging audience members to grab blankets, pack a picnic, and sit under the stars at the High Park Ampitheatre for the show.

I managed to luck out in previous years with glorious weather on opening nights — warm night with a cool breeze and a sky full of stars. Unfortunately this year that was not the case and the opening night for Hamlet was met with a torrential downpour that lead to the show being cancelled midway, despite the cast and crew doing their best to power through. Fortunately enough, my second attempt to attend was the charm.

For those in any way unfamiliar with Hamlet, which has to be one of the most iconic of Shakespeare’s works, you can always find a copy and brush up before attending the show (or you can watch The Lion King). To briefly break it down, Prince Hamlet (Frank Cox-O’Connell) returns to Denmark upon hearing of the death of his father only to realize that his father’s funeral is to be followed shortly after by his mother Gertrude’s (Rachel Jones) marriage to his uncle Claudius (Alon Nashman). Hamlet feels betrayed by his mother and emotionally torn by her happiness until he begins to see the ghost of his father claiming he was murdered by Claudius.

I was honestly surprised that Canadian Stage opted for Hamlet this year as the tragedy portion of Shakespeare in High Park. The main reason being that Hamlet is three to four hours long — the longest play Shakespeare ever wrote. Of course being that Shakespeare in High Park is entirely weather dependent and no one could really ask an audience to sit on the grass for that long even with an intermission, it was clear that a lot of cutting would be done to the original text to fit the production into the hour-45-minute duration.

And yes, if you are familiar with the play, it is clear what scenes have been cut and what scenes have been glazed over — like much of the wedding procession — but the classic lines have remained intact. The production will surely feel sped up to meet the time restraints, though if you are only tangentially familiar with the play, it won’t feel that way. Director Birgit Schreyer Duarte has done a fine job here of creating a production that is seamless in its transitions, exchanges, and story development.

As a whole, Hamlet is a classic piece of literature that explores the topic of mental illness and the affect it can have on the individual and on those around them. Cox-O’Connell does a great job in portraying Hamlet and in particular his descent into madness. I was equally impressed and drawn to Rose Tuong’s portrayal of Ophelia who at first is fueled by her reciprocated love for Hamlet before he, in his own madness, rejects her. Her anguish is deep, vast and real.

As with most Shakespeare in High Park productions, certain elements are modernized — from the costumes done by designer Michelle Tracey and the props — that help make the story more relevant and relatable to the audience which was a great touch.

I’ve attended the tragedy portion of Shakespeare in High Park for the past four years and I have not left disappointed. This production of Hamlet is no different. It is definitely well worth seeing and including in your summer adventures in the city.

Details

  • Hamlet is playing at the High Park Ampitheatre until September 4, 2016 on alternating nights with All’s Well That Ends Well.
  • Performances are Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays at 8 pm.
  • Tickets are PWYC (suggested $20) at the entrance or booked online in advance for $25. Children 14 and under are free.
  • Backstage tours are available on Tuesdays at 6:15 pm.
  • Audience advisory: Poor weather cancellations are determined just prior to start time. If forecast calls for evening rain, call box office or check online for details.

Photo of Rose Tuong and Frank Cox O’Connell by Cylla von Tiedemann