Every student should see Hamlet at least once, if only because it contains the famous “To be or not to be” soliloquy. Conveniently for those who haven’t seen it yet, Seattle Children’s Theater is currently showing a beautifully simple and accessible production of the illustrious play. Rita Giomi adapted the play and directed an exceptional cast of only five actors. Connor Toms stars as Hamlet, while Peter Crook, Darragh Kennan, Renata Friedman, and Amy Thone play the other 11 characters.
Peter Crook, Amy Thone, Darragh Kennan, Connor Toms and Renata Friedman in Hamlet at SCT. Photo by Chris Bennion.
Hamlet takes place in Denmark. The king has recently died and his brother Claudius has assumed his throne and married his widow. Hamlet, the late king’s son, is moody and mournful until an appearance of his father’s ghost urges him to action. The ghost says that Claudius murdered him, and begs his son to take revenge. Thus begins Hamlet’s long struggle to decide whether to follow his father’s wishes or not. His indecision costs almost everyone their lives. And don’t worry, that’s not a spoiler because this is a Shakespearean tragedy, so the audience should expect death.
The first thing that struck me about this production was the visual design. The set and costumes are extremely well done. The stage is entirely gray, and each character wears gray with one splash of color. This makes the characters easy to identify; the royals have red, the comic relief sport orange, and Ophelia’s family wears blue. Also, props stand out against the gray background. All of this makes the actions onstage very clear. The audience will notice what is important. This is vital in a Shakespeare play, where context usually translates the lines.
Because the cast is so small, the actors are constantly switching characters. The efficiency of these transitions is phenomenal. Friedman exits as Ophelia and, less than 20 seconds later, appears as Horatio on the other side of the stage. The switch is so seamless that half the scene went by before I remembered that she played both characters. Throughout the show, each actor embraces their character-of-the-moment so fully that their other roles are forgotten. This makes the play believable, which is key. The greatest challenge to actors is to look like their character, not to look like an actor playing that character. This group of actors understands that perfectly. You may not like Toms’ mannerisms, but you will believe they’re Hamlet’s, not his. You may dislike Queen Gertrude and love the gravedigger, even though Thone plays them both.
Overall, this play is excellent. Whether it’s your introduction to Hamlet or your sixth time seeing it, you will find SCT’s version unpretentious but intense. It may be a bit frightening for kids under 12, but the wonderful set and costume design and superb acting will appeal to teens and adults alike. And don’t expect a happy ending—it is a tragedy, after all—but who says tragedies can’t be enjoyable?
January 26th, 2008
Seattle Children's Theatre
Through February 24th
More info and show times: http://www.sct.org/
SCT’s Ticket Office: 206-441-3322
Ticket Office Hours: Friday 9 a.m. – show time, Saturday 10 a.m. – show time, Sunday noon – show time
Seattle Children's Theatre is located at the West entrance to Seattle Center, just north of Pacific Science Center and West of the Space Needle. It is served by buses 1, 13, 15, 18, 19, 24 and 33. For bus times: tripplanner.metrokc.gov
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