Friday, August 7, 2009

Act I Scene 1 - Slings & Arrows

So we come to our first play within a play - Hamlet as done on the brilliant Slings & Arrows. Because the show is about the behind the scenes aspect of a theater festival, we don't usually see complete scenes. And yet what we see of the plays is very sensitive to the text and even insightful. Note that while I'm not above talking about scenes only shown in rehearsal, I've tried to use Season 1 Episode 6's performance as the standard. I wasn't really expecting Act I Scene 1 to make it, but as the play begins, we do get a handful of lines. Onward!

A Minimalist HamletAn early decision of the show's artistic director was to let the text do the work of setting the scene. Black drapes and minimal sets, and costumes taken off the rack by the actors, with no concern for period. Speaks to both the power of the text and its universality.

The play opens on the character of Cyril (Graham Harley) playing the shivering Francisco, relieved by Frank (Michael Polley, father of Sarah) as Bernardo. Now, these two guys are a classic double act, often acting as a chorus on the show, and in the Hamlet parallels of the first season, standing in less for Rozencrantz and Guildenstern than the gravediggers. In the company at New Burbage, they are career thespians who play all those bit parts, often more than one per play. It's very fitting that they would open this version of Hamlet, because they also open Slings and Arrows itself, with juicy tune played at a wrap party.

And yet, for clowns, they give an excellent performance in their Scene 1 snippet. When Francisco confirms that the noise he heard is Bernardo, he is quite obviously relieved.
No enemy from Norway. No Ghost*. Phew. Which brings up one of those puns Shakespeare is notorious for. For some reason I'd never read "For this relief much thanks" as a pun, but there it is in Cyril's performance.

Shame about Frank's Asterix the Gaul costume.

*We're backstage during the Ghost's appearance, so I can't comment on it.

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