Raoul Bhaneja performs Hamlet. Photo: Andrew Kenneth Martin.
OTTAWA — To tinker or not to tinker, that’s the … well, actually, it’s not a question at all. Anyone who’s going to play Hamlet – and who wouldn’t want to, considering the extraordinary palette of character and situation William Shakespeare has bequeathed us with this play? — has to experiment with the role if he’s to make it his own.
Raoul Bhaneja takes the making to a whole different level by playing all 17 characters, including the title role, himself in this slightly slimmed-down version of Shakespeare’s great tragedy.
That takes guts and, to pull it off to any extent, talent. Bhaneja – a graduate of Canterbury High School — has both, working not just alone but without the benefit of a set, props or even a costume change.
Dressed all in black on a black stage, he peoples the space with an often-enticing collection of characters.
Claudius, who’s become king of Denmark by killing Hamlet’s father and marrying Hamlet’s mother, blends garrulousness, cold rationality and quiet menace in one of Bhaneja’s best depictions.
Polonius, one hand clasped behind his back in professorial manner (Bhaneja uses such simple, repetitive gestures to help identify who he’s playing), suffers from a brain that’s clogged by verbiage yet emerges as a deeply loving father and a man who really does just want to do what’s right.
Bhaneja’s Ophelia, on the other hand, leaves little impression, in part because we really do need to see another actor depicting Ophelia’s reactions as Hamlet hurls his “Get thee to a nunnery” cruelty at her.
Horatio, too, is only faintly realized despite the Scottish accent Bhaneja gives him. The Grave Digger, on the other hand, is a suitably lively fellow, belting out his song with very funny rock star-wannabe earnestness.
Hamlet himself is, if not exactly the boy next door, at least a credibly conflicted version of one albeit a lad who’s spent more than a few evenings curled up with Nietzsche and Beckett. He speaks in a conversational tone, opening his “To be, or not to be” soliloquy in a jaunty, teasing manner as though sharing an inside joke with the audience – one that goes something like, “Look, we all know what’s coming in this soliloquy and that I’m going to do my darndest to make it my own” – and then drilling down to something darker as he contemplates the sleep of death and its undiscovered country.
Directed by Robert Ross Parker, Bhaneja delivers all this in tightly executed and admirable fashion, making every motion count as he slips from one character to the next. He does it in a fourth-wall-be-damned manner, with the house lights only partly dimmed, addressing his soliloquies directly to the audience, and at times leaving the stage to sit among the crowd……..(read more)
Hope and Hell Theatre Company in association with Richard Jordan Productions Ltd.
National Arts Centre Studio
Reviewed Nov. 14
Continues until Nov. 23. Tickets/information: NAC box office, 1-888-991-2787, ticketmaster.ca.