Reviewed by David Walters
Do not go if this is your first Hamlet.*
Please do go if this is your second, third, or umpteenth Hamlet. The experience will be deeper because of those Hamlets you’ve seen before; you will be able to get closer to Hamlet than you ever have before; you will come away richer for having been to this one.
This Hamlet tasks the players (you, the audience) to bring their all to this production as this telling is an intimate group effort and a journey that is a unique experience made the more unique because of each person there.
Upon entry to the theater, the audience is requested to sit in chairs set up in a circle on stage. In the middle is a meditating Emily Carding, your Hamlet guide for the evening.
When the players are all met she springs to life welcoming everyone as participants in the voyage about to unfold. Dolling out scripts and roles for Horatio, Gertrude, Claudius, Polonius, Laertius, Ophelia and the players to act out The Murder of Gonzago, the volunteer/actors then each get specific instructions of what will be expected of them. Ophelia is warned that she will be abused, Laertius gets to practice his sword fight and the rest of the audience is instructed to be the supporting players and chime in when called upon (brush up on your Amazing Grace).
The play is the soliloquies strung together and interspersed with brief moments of interaction. Other characters only get a couple of lines, but Carding, as Hamlet, gently pulls performances out of each. And of course, they all get their moment in the spotlight, to die on stage. This intimacy allows the possibility to meet one of Shakespeare’s most iconic characters in an intimate way.
Emily Carding does a courageous and intimate 50-minute portrayal of the core of the Prince’s story (the other 10 minutes is spent creating a true collective of the assembled audience). With a script by director Kolbrun Bjort Sigfusdottir of Brite Theater that touches on the theater company’s strengths of the unconventional, audience involvement, site-specific work, using direct address, shared lighting and use of space. The play is brought down to the essence of Hamlet’s experience and point of view. This is an intimate journey that will leave you feeling closer and more empathetic to Hamlet than ever before.
Closing the play, standing in for Fortinbras, in the middle of five bodies strewn about the stage, Horatio reads a note (not from Shakespeare) from the now vanished Hamlet to all of his players, thanking them all for vanquishing his memory, absolving him from his actions and releasing him from the purgatory of his troubled life. The audience’s closing applause is not only for Emily, it is also for themselves.
I also need to highlight The Fringe Encore Series that Hamlet: An Experience is part of. It’s a great opportunity to see shows that have won awards from around the globe. The Fringe Encore Series assembled the “Best of the Fests” from fringe festivals around the world (Brighton, Edinburgh, Hollywood, Limerick, Orlando, Toronto and New York) and gave them a short run at The Soho Playhouse. The full series is running November 6 – December 16, 2018. Tickets are $39/$25 and can be purchased by visiting www.fringeencores.org. There’s a lot of really cool stuff that they’ve brought to New York, something for everyone: comedy, drama, family musicals, cabaret shows. It’s a wonderful opportunity for theater lovers to experience “the best of” from around the world. Do take a look at the many wonderful offerings and go see something magical.
*If you don’t know the play, you won’t be able to see the immense amount of thought, work and effort that was put in to make this intimate piece of theater extremely fluid, eminently viable, effortlessly approachable and extremely personal.