A Modern Hamlet

The Royal Shakepseare Company did a tremendous job at modernizing Hamlet just enough to blend the language with modern English and more contemporary dress. It was like watching a Hamlet set in post-WWI Denmark. The set design was simple. The gym room of Elsinore Castle. During the battle scene soldiers came out and removed the stage to reveal a patch of dirt circling a narrow walk on the stage. During Ophelia’s burial she is laid in the dirt at the end of the narrow walk, and rests there for the remainder of the play. This allowed for a beautiful moment between Jonathan Slinger and the body of Ophelia as he dies from the poisoned sword wound.

The most touching scene in the play is Ophelia’s returning of remembrances to Hamlet. There is so much passion in that moment I was moved to tears, when usually that scene is a bit annoying because of the way most Hamlets are demure and uncaring. Jonathan Slinger’s Hamlet is heartbroken and he returns the heartbreak through violent anger, after which Ophelia apologizes and returns his love. At the end of the scene when he storms out, she remains, crying and half naked, collecting the letters back into a box with tender care.

This production definitely highlights the physical passion in their relationship and suggests that they have consummated their love. During Ophelia’s mad scene she wears a wedding dress and veil, carrying a bouquet and transitioning between wedding day optimism and pure melancholy at the loss of her father and betrayal of her lover.

The productions focus on their relationship as something more than a teen crush is in line with my interpretation of the script, which made watching the breakdown of both characters all the more real for me. After the play I went to the Dirty Duck, a local pub, and conversed with several of the actors including Jonathan Slinger, Pippa Nixon (Ophelia), Alex Waldman (Horatio). They were very gracious about shaking hands and carrying on small conversations with the students who showed up to speak with them. It was great to experience conversation with such seasoned thespians in such a laid back atmosphere.

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