Orange is the new Hamlet in Driftwood Theatre’s steel-sharp, fast-paced tale of grief, revenge & truth

Hamlet illustrationDriftwood Theatre Group launched its 21st annual Bard’s Bus Tour with their production of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet earlier this month, text adapted by Toby Malone and directed by Driftwood Artistic Director D. Jeremy Smith – currently running in Toronto at Withrow Park from July 21-26.

As part of Driftwood’s Shakesperience program, early arrivals to last night’s performance were treated to a pre-show chat between AD/director Smith and Dr. Jill Levenson, Professor Emeritus at UofT on Hamlet and the adaptation Driftwood is using for this production. The themes of grief, revenge and truth run throughout this tragedy – grief in particular. Malone’s adaptation for Driftwood mainly draws from two versions of the script: the 1603 (first) quarto and the 1623 folio. Known as the “bad quarto,” the 1603 text lacks the refinement of later versions, but has a brisk pace that lends itself well to the action and staging of the play. By combining these two variations of the text, Malone has created a script that is both fast-paced and eloquent – and by so doing, Hamlet doesn’t come off as an overly intellectual procrastinator, but a highly intelligent and virtuous man struggling with grief and rage over the loss of his father at the hands of his uncle.

The set (designed by director Smith) is inspired by a prison motif – real prison, not Martha Stewart prison – the environment is grey, harsh and grim, with concrete slabs, steel girders, chain link fencing and barbed wire. The sparse furniture a single folding chair and a steel cot frame wound with barbed wire, serving as a bed, platform, etc.

Hamlet is one of my favourite plays – and Driftwood’s production is compelling, moving and darkly comical, with a remarkable cast assembled for this journey of revelation and tragedy, most of them playing multiple roles. Paolo Santalucia is stellar as Hamlet, giving the intellectual, melancholic introspection hits of dark comedy and razor-sharp edge (reminiscent of a young Robert Downey Jr. circa Less Than Zero). Layer upon layer of Hamlet’s mind and soul are uncovered – from depression in his grief to blind rage in his revenge. Jon de Leon does a nice job as the arrogant and entitled Claudius, and does some interesting double duty as the ghost, Claudius’s brother/Hamlet’s father, imperious and otherworldly (with some incredible props work on the grotesque skull-like head, mounted on a helmet, its eyes bulging beneath a mouldy crown). Nehassaiu deGannes is regal, sensuous and kind as Gertrude, on her son’s side and unaware of Claudius’s treachery.

As Polonius, Richard Alan Campbell rides the edge of affable and irritating, with the air of a nerdy lawyer, wise in the ways of court politics, but clueless about the more down-to-earth aspects of human nature. Christopher Darroch does some really nice work as the passionate, noble Laertes, a basically good young man pushed to the edge of his own revenge, and a great turn as the thuggish Rosencrantz. Natasha Mumba brings a lovely combination of fierceness and fragility to Ophelia – no push-over, she is Hamlet’s equal, and her spiral into madness over the loss of her father is heartbreaking to witness. Sarah Finn is excellent as Horatio, Hamlet’s loyal friend and confidant – torn between supporting him in these dark times and finding the truth, and protecting him from himself and the forces that seek to destroy him. Horatio is the objective observer – and will be the chronicler of what comes to pass here, a fair-minded speaker of truth who must come to terms with her own grief in the end. And Steven Burley, in his 21st season with Driftwood, does a stand-up job as Hamlet’s hip, bro-like schoolmate Guildenstern and the cheeky, Fool of a gravedigger.

With shouts to costume designer Melanie McNeill, lighting designer Emily Lalonde and composer/music director Tom Lillington for their most excellent work in creating the prison-like world of Hamlet’s Denmark.

Orange is the new Hamlet in Driftwood Theatre’s steel-sharp, fast-paced tale of grief, revenge and truth – stunningly designed and richly performed.

You have a few more chances to catch Driftwood Theatre’s production of Hamlet in Toronto at Withrow Park (until July 26). The company continues its outdoor performance tour of Hamlet around Ontario – visiting 26 communities in all – until August 16; check here for locations/dates and please note the 7:30 p.m. start time.

As some of its previous annual donors were unable to contribute this year, Driftwood is facing a $25,000 funding shortfall this season. Please consider lending your support by donating what you can to this remarkable local Shakespeare touring company.

A delightfully magical production – Driftwood Theatre Group’s The Tempest

tempestWe are such stuff as dreams are made on; and our little life is rounded with a sleep…

Saw some delightful outdoor Shakespeare last night: Driftwood Theatre Group’s performance of its Bard’s Bus Tour production of The Tempest at Withrow Park. Directed by D. Jeremy Smith, collaborating with text editor/dramaturg Toby Malone, this Tempest is updated and full of awesome surprises.

Opening with the departure of King Alonso and his retinue on his private jet, and the eventual enchanted crash landing on a charmed island (here, Stephano is the drunken pilot and Trinculo the goofball gal flight attendant), the storm sequence is very cleverly – and playfully – staged, complete with a model airplane, hoist aloft by the actors on its wobbly and harrowing descent.

Played out on a circus-like ring of stones, Prospero weaves his magic, overseeing the meeting and courtship of his daughter Miranda and young Prince Ferdinand, and orchestrating the reunion of the shipwrecked nobles, which also includes his traitorous brother, the power-hungry sister of the King and a loyal old friend. Here, the island spirits that serve him are artfully rendered puppets: Ariel a delicate, gossamer creature with retractable wings; and Caliban a near life-sized thing of earth, stone and gills, emerging from his camouflaged hiding place and operated by two actors. As the play progresses, Caliban undergoes a surprising metamorphosis, getting smaller – to Muppet-sized, then finger puppet – as his power weakens.

Featuring a lovely, otherworldly a cappella soundtrack by composer/musical director Tom Lillington and an excellent cast, The Tempest takes the audience on a two-hour journey of wonder, fun and philosophy. Richard Alan Campbell does a lovely job of balancing Prospero’s righteous indignation and rage with a deep melancholy and longing to right his life – for both himself and his daughter – and live out the remainder of his days at home. Miriam Fernandes is sweetly innocent and wide-eyed, and full of youthful wisdom as Miranda; and Kaleb Alexander is adorably awkward and gallant as the love-smitten Ferdinand. Cast stand-outs also include double-duty performances by Madeleine Donohue, playing a cheeky, goofy Trinculo, and the lovely and enchanting Ariel; and Peter van Gestel, as the outrageously drunken and cocky Stephano, and the sullen and vengeful Caliban. Donohue also provides some beautiful vocals as Ariel and sings an ethereal duet with Christina Gordon (a female Gonzalo, as well as one of the island spirits), with Gordon’s gorgeous voice perfectly combining, and creating an atmosphere of charm and wonder.

With big shouts to the design team: Lokki Ma (props), Melanie McNeill (costumes) and director Smith (set) for their brilliant work in this magical production.

Driftwood Theatre’s touring production of The Tempest is an ethereal, magical and highly entertaining production, featuring some delightful surprises and an equally delightful ensemble.

You have two more chances to catch The Tempest at Withrow Park: tonight (July 26) and tomorrow (July 27) – please note the 7:30 p.m. start time. The tour makes stops at various locations across Ontario until August 17 – check here for dates and locations. Some performances feature pre-show performance Food of Love, an a cappella concert (6:30 p.m. start) of the music of Driftwood Theatre, which is celebrating its 20th season this year, as well as pre-show and late night chats.