As part of Theatre Erindale’s Studio Series, members of the Theatre and Drama Studies program premiered Hamlet in Deerfield Hall on February 2. The performance then moved to Sheridan College on February 9. Directed by David Matheson, Hamlet is the second production in the Studio Series.
Matheson takes a unique approach with this production of Hamlet. Although Shakespeare’s plays are dominated with male roles, most TDS students are female. Instead of making female students play male roles, Matheson opted to switch the genders of certain characters. Each performance of Hamlet rotated actors to accommodate different gender roles.
Although Shakespeare’s plays were written in the 16th and early 17th century, they are timeless because they examine a shared human experience. While gender roles were crucial in 16th century England, modernizing the plays allows Matheson to challenge hetero-normative gender constructs. Additionally, by changing Hamlet’s gender, Matheson successfully challenges these concepts and redefines the meaning of a classic script.
Moreover, the “double cast” of the play is interesting in the context of Hamlet because it draws attention to the play’s important themes of dualism. Hamlet’s nature is inherently characterized by its simultaneity, such as wanting to avenge his father’s death while also being unable to act. While a lot of the literary criticism and analyses of Hamlet is psychoanalytic, a Freudian reading is very limiting to the meaning of the play. Like all Shakespearean plays, it’s impossible to pin only one meaning to Hamlet.
The dualism is infused within many speeches and soliloquies, such as the frequent comments on life and death existing together. But perhaps the most important act of dualism in the play is Hamlet’s dilemma between thought and action, which is also considered his tragic flaw. The driving force of the plot is Hamlet’s desire to avenge his father’s death. However, the play places more emphasis on Hamlet’s thoughts, rather than his actions. He constantly delays his actions by contemplating and questioning the consequences of his intended behaviour.
Hamlet’s metatheatre (theatre that draws attention to its theatrical components) also contributes to the dualism in the play; it is both real and fictional, which contributes to the catharsis the audience experiences in the theatre.
In Theatre Erindale’s production, the stage was centred. The placement of the stage was highly effective, owing to the play’s soliloquies and metatheatre. The centred stage engaged the audience and attracted attention to the theatricality of the actions and speeches.
The evening offered a unique interpretation of Hamlet, intriguing me to attend other performances to witness the diversity of the cast. On the night I attended, the actors performed Hamlet according to traditional gender roles. Nonetheless, Matheson’s contemporary ideas shone through during the performance, leaving me with a strong impression of this adaptation’s affect.