Hamlet a Review by Hayden Clewes

Bard on the Beach: BMO Mainstage
162 West 1 st Avenue
June 23 rd , 2024
Tickets from $30.00

Bard on the Beach in my opinion, is the most exquisite theatrical event in Vancouver. The BMO Mainstage tent has a 729-seat capacity with accessibility for all. Located in Vancouver’s stunning Sen̓áḵw/Vanier Park, the venue offers the Northshore mountains and downtown Vancouver as a beautiful backdrop. In 2009, the committee went to work to replace the old tent with the new. The new tent features seats shipped from Australia, steel from Portland, Oregon, the risers from England and fabrics from New Zealand; the new tent has parts from all across the world. Without a cloud in the dusk sky, opening night was glorious. After a brief walk, we were prepared for one of Shakespeare’s absolute best: Hamlet.

We were directed to our seats which were fantastic. Delighted with a great vantage point of the stage, we were also extremely pleased with the view of the mountains and the city beyond. Bard on the Beach is an elaborate lineup of classic Shakespearean plays. Every show I have seen throughout the years I have loved, and Hamlet did not break that trend. As one of Shakespeare’s best-known plays, the pressure was on the cast and crew to deliver a classic story but with a captivating and convincing “modernization.” Given the show’s gothic and dark themes, the aesthetic and energy needed to match the material, which it did. With various sets and scene changes, the visuals of the play were memorizing, smooth in transition and incredibly detailed and realistic. The audience was lively and ready for an absolute classic.

The sets were beautiful, designed by Pam Johnson and assisted by Emerenne Saefkow. There were several visual effects with the lighting and illusionary effects that played with the sets and overall design quite well. Gerald King (lighting designer) and Jamie Sweeney (assistant lighting designer) have done a wonderful job bringing their vision to life. There are times when it calls to be lively and bright and times when the gothic themes of the show must be strongly displayed. Well done on a captivating experience. The set and lighting designers have worked in tandem to create a visually pleasing and at times, mesmerizing experience. The scene change to the infamous “grave digging” scene was breathtaking. If you blink, you will miss the sudden 4-foot-deep grave on stage appearing. Within an instant, we were deep into the graveyard and the grave itself. Well done.

Unlike many of Shakespeare’s plays, the beginning is quiet and builds a sense of suspense which the cast established immediately. The pace of the show matched the tone that needs to be set to create the essence of a disturbance and a strong sense of unease among the cast of characters. As the stories of the characters begin to relate to one another, the tension rises, and the pace increases drastically. A strong beginning to lead us into the epic story to come.

Nadeem Phillip Umar Khitab is our Hamlet. Though he delivers a strong performance, he is overshadowed by some of the surrounding cast as they are more convincing. Though it is difficult to deliver Shakespeare in a grounded way, he is not over the top or poor in his performance but not the quality I would expect from the lead of such a large, popular event; especially given that Hamlet is such an infamous character in theatrical history. There are several moments where his performance is incredibly strong in difficult scenes. It is vital that the “grave digging” scene is memorable, strong, powerful and believable; this scene is phenomenally performed. As it happened so quickly via the scene change, the actors brought us right into the moment and truly made it feel as if we were transformed to an actual gravesite. The lines are delivered brilliantly and the conversation flows as if the actors were not acting at all. Nadeem delivers the part well but is unfortunately one of the weaker actors in the show.

Kate Besworth plays Ophelia and nails the part. The play Hamlet has many of Shakespeare’s most memorable characters; from Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Hamlet himself and of course, Ophelia. This character has one of the most bizarre journeys to experience in the production and it is important that the actor can play a wide range of emotions and at times, does not gradually shift but rapidly. Besworth does a wonderful job of presenting the character’s arch throughout the story and her tragic demise. Matthew IP Shaw plays Horatio and delivers the strongest performance in all the cast. Horatio, though not seen a terrible lot through the show, has the difficult job of reminding us that Hamlet is human and still a young, ungrounded man. Horatio grounds him and gives him a sense of humanity through their conversations. Shaw has established the intimate friendship that Hamlet and Horatio have shared throughout the years and delivers his lines with passionate believability. Ending the show with the most sentimental of all lines in the play, bravo to Shaw and a brilliant performance. Munish Sharma plays Claudius and offers a great sense of evil and malice to the production. His character brings the necessary tension to the play and as time goes on, he has placed the audience against him which is exactly where they need to be for the relationship between Hamlet and his uncle to work. There were moments where he was quite terrifying. Jennifer Clement as Gertude compliments Claudius very well and brigs her own sense of evil and deception into the part. It’s eluded that she played a large part in the death of Hamlet’s father, her husband. Well done from both. The cast and ensemble are strong and bring one of the greatest productions of all time to life.

Lisa Goebel choreographed the production, as well played the important part as the intimacy director. This show flows so beautifully with divine movement and a swift pace about the stage. As well, excellent dance numbers in a Shakespearean play is an impressive ambition to pull off and they were beautifully done. Barbara Clayden is the costume designer and has done a wonderful job. Hamlet is Gothically dressed which helps to show the torment he is experiencing in his mind. Gertrude and Claudius are elegant and divine. The ensemble are dressed in nice colour patters that flow together quite well but are not distracting by any means. The post 1960’s aesthetics are matched in the costuming and the set design. Beautiful.

Director Stephen Drover has taken one of the most famous productions by Shakespeare and done it justice. It is a unique take on the classic tale and adapted beyond the 1960’s and before the 2000’s. It is always exciting to see what a director will do to “modernize” a work of Shakespeare. Drover is clearly a skilled visionary and from a roaring standing applause, it is evident that his vision is well received. The audience was thrilled, as was I. Hamlet is one of my favourite plays and my favourite of Shakespeare’s, so I was entering with a slightly critical and personal approach. My concerns were not warranted as this was a brilliant production. I plan on seeing it again before it closes on September 20 th , 2024, and I highly recommend you do as well; at least once!

Hamlet is a tragedy written by William Shakespeare between the years 1599 and 1601 and remains one of the most famous plays of all time and will forever more.

Feature image: Nadeem Umar Phillip Khitab as Hamlet, Kate Besworth as Ophelia, Photo by Tim Matheson.

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