Last year I learned that there’s a group of kids doing Rebel Shakespeare, relatively near to me. Relative in that it’s an hour away, so I only got to see a portion of a show from them last year. Well, this year they decided to do one 10 minutes from my house. Even better? Hamlet. So, you all know where I spent my Sunday.
How do you review something like this? Christine (one of the folks organizing/running the show, and also a blog reader so I know she’s listening :)) told me of a bad review they got from some grumpy old dude who was holding them up to the same standard he might for a professional troop. These are *kids* (in this case, it was the teen program). Doing Shakespeare. On their own. For free. The fact that they even *have* costumes, much less good ones, is a win. Last year I saw a Tempest done in between stores at the mall. Shakespeare everywhere, baby!
I won’t sit here and pick apart the acting. Maybe some of these kids are destined to become professional actors, maybe not. They’re out there doing it, for their enjoyment and my entertainment, so I’m not going to sit here and criticize them. Sure, maybe Ophelia could have been a little louder and Gertrude a bit softer, but on the flip side I thought Ophelia had down the “My boyfriend is acting weird and it’s pissing me off” facial expressions, and Gertrude was not afraid to put it all out on the stage, particularly during a pretty intense bedchamber scene.
Today I got to see their female Hamlet (they are rotating between the shows), and I quite liked her. Though tradition dictates that Hamlet is commonly done by someone 30+, it is fascinating to watch it handled by a teen. People joke about how “emo” Hamlet acts, complaining about his mom and his step dad and how much life stinks – but who better to play that part than a teenager? Hamlet is not Claudius’ equal, remember – something that is lost when they both look about the same age and physical stature.
Ours seemed particularly….what’s a good word…..scheming, to me. Like she always had the plan well in hand. On an interesting note, for this version they edited out the “antic disposition” scene, so somebody coming into the play cold might not even understand that she was attempting to play it mad. Take the “I am but mad north by northwest” line. That can be played so you’re left thinking that Hamlet’s a crazy person saying ‘Dude, listen, I’m not crazy, there really are aliens sending me radio signals! Get the tinfoil!’ or, as we had here, it can be “Look, I know that you think I’m nuts but I am just way frickin smarter than you, so I’m being incredibly patronizing because I know you’re never going to understand it.” I would have liked to see this play out even more on the “play upon this recorder” scene – that’s really an opportunity to get at Hamlet’s anguish over his supposed friends who are looking him right in the eye and lying through their teeth at him.
I liked the costumes, though they did strike me a bit “Matrix” at first. I’m told they were going for steampunk, which did not become apparent until characters started appearing wearing goggles (though I guess it did explain some of the boots). I’m sorry to say, though I liked Polonius’ comedy, his beard was a bit much. It was too hard to look past “that’s a kid with a grey beard glued to his face.” But what can you do? There’s a scene or two that specifically mentions Polonius’ beard. (Polonius actually makes a contribution to the play that I did NOT expect, and was pleasantly surprised by, but perhaps we’ll talk about that after their run is over in case anybody reading is still going to go see them.)
What I loved, most surprisingly, was the soundtrack. One of the directors sat on a blanket next to me with an ipod dock, pressing buttons at the right times. And sometimes, like during the play within a play scene or “Now could I drink hot blood,” it was perfect. Hard to really explain, as they were not pieces that I was familiar with. Even better, really. Point proven when they went for the Johnny Cash / NIN “Hurt” and I was all “Aw come on, really?”
Great climax, too. Stage combat is always tricky, even with the professionals. The more realistic you make it, the better the chance of something going wrong or someone getting hurt. So I was quite happy to see a real duel with real swords really hitting each other. The trick, I guess, was to keep it brief. Some productions will carry this scene for a long time, but here they got right to it – a first hit within about 10 seconds, a second soon after. Good idea – make it good, but keep it short and keep the danger to a minimum. ( Bonus points to our Hamlet as well for going all Gary Oldman on the “Follow my mother!” line to put away Claudius, even though only the ones that have seen The Professional will get that ;). I could only wish for such intensity during the whole production. )
Have to wrap this up (it’s already tomorrow). It’s not even like I can do a legit review, I’m such a raving fanboy when it comes to this stuff. At intermission Christine asked me what I thought and I’m pretty sure my exact response was, “It’s Hamlet for God’s sake, it’s never bad. Some parts are just better than others.” Then later when comparing parts we liked I repeated something I’ve often said here, “I try to pick favorite lines and best lines and then realize that I can’t, because they’re all favorites and they’re all good.”
I look forward to seeing the Rebels do their thing any chance I get, and I encourage you all to do so as well. Maybe they’re not in your town, but have you checked to see if there is a similar group? Seriously, if you’re a Shakespeare fan, you want more Shakespeare in the world, right? I dream of a time when I can randomly walk down the street and realize that there’s a Shakespeare production going on that I can sit down and watch.
Or heck even keep walking and just listen to it in the air. Caliban told us “Be not afeard, the isle is full of noises, sounds and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not.” You know what? For my money, sitting on the grass on a sunny Sunday afternoon listening for free, to kids perform Hamlet not for grades or credit or cash but because they love doing it as much as I love listening to it? I know exactly what he was talking about. “I cried to dream again,” indeed.