Hey, Hamlet, Let's Dance

Hamlet (Michael Benz) and Laertes (Matthew Romain) cross swords. (Courtesy Shakespeare's Globe)
Hamlet (Michael Benz) and Laertes (Matthew Romain) cross swords. (Courtesy Shakespeare's Globe)

It’s not every “Hamlet” in which the entertainment values are so sharp you want to get up and dance a jig with all those corpses onstage. They, too, have risen at the end of the proceedings and morphed their dance of death into something celebratory.

Whether it’s revelatory or not is another question, but let’s stick with the dancing Danes for the moment. They’re all members of Shakespeare’s Globe, which has come to Boston under the cozy umbrella of ArtsEmerson at the Paramount Theatre (through Oct. 21). This is the company that successfully recreated Shakespeare’s original theater along the Thames, specializing in outdoor productions that mirrored the geography of Shakespeare’s time: the toffs in vertical seating around the perimeter of the stage, with groundlings walking around the area closer to the stage, sometimes mixing it up with the actors.

The Paramount couldn’t make room for groundlings, but it does capture a unique camaraderie by making you feel as if you’re seeing a small band of devoted actors touring the provinces in a long-past century, erecting a relatively bare two-tier platform on which eight actors play all the parts – and play them all extremely well. No special effects (unless you consider a gong a special effect), no atmospheric lighting (the house lights remain on) and no hyper-emoting, just crisp, clear, solid acting. My friend Richard Barran, who directs tours of London theater, tells me that’s very much in keeping with the company’s practice of clear diction that needs to do battle at times with the elements and the occasional overhead plane.

Eight actors play all the parts – and play them all extremely well. No special effects, no atmospheric lighting, no hyper-emoting. Just crisp, clear, solid acting.

Dickon Tyrrell, for example, plays the ghost of Hamlet’s father, stepfather Claudius and the Player King, each tweaked and nuanced with just the right touch. Miranda Foster, to borrow the terminology of Polonius (a superb Christopher Saul), goes from a tragical Gertrude to a comical second gravedigger and a historical pastoral player in a heartbeat or two.

Michael Benz is very much his own Hamlet, or his and his excellent directors', Dominic Dromgoole and Bill Buckhurst. No brooding allowed here – he’s a high-spirited young man without any of the existentialism of Ralph Fiennes, the intellectualism of Simon Russell Beale, or even the slacker spirit of Ethan Hawke. He’s a bit goofy, but he looks like he’s having a grand old time of making Polonius think he’s mad and Claudius know that he’s out for blood. Even his mood swings with Ophelia make perfect sense, which is not always the case.

On the other hand, what’s lost along with the melancholy is any kind of a bid for greatness. The other Hamlets I mentioned live on in the memory. I don’t imagine Benz will linger all that long.

But that doesn’t seem to be what the Globies are after. They seem wedded to spreading the joy of live theater and fine acting rather than wowing us with a new interpretive concept of where Hamlet and Shakespeare might be coming from. At that they’re so successful that you wish there were room for the groundlings to link arms and dance along with these fabulous corpses.

Here's a taste of how it looked outdoors:

This program aired on October 10, 2012. The audio for this program is not available.

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Ed Siegel Critic-At-Large
Ed Siegel is critic-at-large for WBUR.



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