The Student News Site of Washington International School

International Dateline

The Student News Site of Washington International School

International Dateline

The Student News Site of Washington International School

International Dateline

Review: Hamlet


Set in a contemporary Denmark ruled by a fascist government, Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Hamlet, directed by Michael Khan, explores the themes of family, love, mental health, and death through a compelling cast, including a Hamlet who finds comedy in his darkest moments, and a strong, confident Ophelia.

Michael Urie is a powerful Hamlet, as his deep emotional connection to his character gives him the ability to turn the dramatic, conflicted prince into a playful young man whose words easily resonate with people today. Urie does not impersonate the young prince as the angsty, brooding Hamlet we often see, but rather gives him a lighthearted, almost sassy side, constantly shifting his weight from hip to hip, and darting around the stage while saying his lines. He delivers a sizable part of the famous “To be or not to be” monologue casually reclining on the floor, twirling a pistol in his hands with an idle smile. I find Urie’s “antic disposition” scene particularly thought-provoking, because even as Hamlet descends into madness, he preserves his humor and subtle cynicism, which makes it quite difficult to decipher whether, as the play progresses, his madness continues to be an act, or is starting to become real.

Before watching Oyin Oladejo play Ophelia, I had been under the impression that Hamlet’s love interest had to be tiny, naive, and meek. But Oladejo’s Ophelia is the complete opposite: tall, strong, and quietly confident, her stage presence constantly commands attention, even when she is silent. Ophelia’s scenes with Hamlet are particularly intriguing to watch because of the strength she exudes, both physically and emotionally. Oladejo is not the typical Ophelia who blindly believes anyone she talks to, which creates a push-and-pull dynamic between her and Hamlet. Though Ophelia certainly has feelings for him, she is smart enough to refrain from responding to his frequent declarations of love, and avoids displaying her attraction to him too openly. There are moments when, had it been another actor playing Ophelia, it would have seemed like Hamlet was toying with her, while Oladejo practically makes Urie chase her.

The modernity of this Hamlet production is also shown through the set, which, designed by John Coyne, is mainly made of metal, gray and rather plain, accentuating the large political emblems often attached to various staircases and panels. There are three small television screens hanging center stage, that can be raised and then lowered back down depending on the scene. They are used as security cameras (especially in the beginning when the officers and Hamlet see the ghost of the deceased King of Denmark), or as a general news channel flashing the faces of important characters during their appearances. Costumes, designed by Jess Goldstein, are sleek and professional, usually consisting of blazers and pencil skirts for women, and suits for men. However, two notable exceptions are Hamlet (who wore gray skinny jeans and cardigan), and Ophelia (donning a shirt and a flowy skirt with leggings underneath it). This choice served to further differentiate the two young adults from their often controlling, politics-obsessed parents and entourage.

Story continues below advertisement

The only negative about Shakespeare’s Hamlet is the sheer length of the play, which not even the extremely strong cast and modern set full of bright screens and the large, moving panels can distract from. Despite the actors’ unwavering energy and focus, the first act in particular dragged. Having never seen a production of Hamlet, but being aware of its major plot points, I found myself growing bored as scenes progress slowly, filling with extended dialogue before reaching their climax. Additionally, most of the comic relief in Hamlet rests on the characters of Rosencrantz (Ryan Spahn) and Guildenstern (Kelsey Rainwater), but, in this case, the choices they can make regarding physical humor are more restricted; when they join Hamlet in the castle, they are expected to follow the a strict, modern etiquette, which provides further insight into the unspoken oppression this particular production places on residents of the Danish court thanks to its contemporary, politicized setting.

Though Michael Khan keeps this production from feeling excessively dark or upsetting, I still would not recommend the play to children younger than middle schoolers. Because of its extensive coverage of the themes of mental health and death, Shakespeare’s elevated language, and an Act I that, in my opinion, lasts unnecessarily long, Hamlet is no easy play to watch. However, for theatre-goers interested in Shakespeare, and more specifically in his tragedies, Shakespeare Theatre Company’s tragicomic Hamlet is definitely worth an evening at Sidney Harman Hall.

By Ester Luna

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

All International Dateline Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *