When seeing Shakespeare’s works performed, we just as often go for the spectacle as for the language and poetry. We’re used to seeing multiple costume and set changes and the idea of taking away this display, especially one as seminal as Hamlet, is a great risk and can easily end up leaving the audience disconcerted and bored. Yet, this is precisely the risk actor Raoul Bhaneja and director Robert Ross Parker take in their minimalist take on the play. Bhaneja takes on the gargantuan task of performing all 17 characters in this one man show. It is a testament to both his and Parker’s skill that the production is so fresh and captivating. It is sometimes hard to differentiate the different characters, especially for those not as familiar with the play. However, this happens rarely and, overall, Bhaneja does a wonderful job transforming from one character to the next.
Bhaneja, dressed in all black on a black, empty stage, walks toward the audience, whistling and recreating the cold, blustery opening scene of the famous play. From that moment, it’s easy to get swept up in the action. Each character shines through and the production is choreographed down to the smallest detail, all to great effect. Bhaneja’s performance is mesmerizing and his delivery is fast-paced and modern, all without losing any of Shakespeare’s poetry or linguistic nuance. The team has also very wisely decided to use accents sparingly, which is refreshing and allows the audience to focus on the meaning versus just the delivery.
Bhaneja throws his whole being into the performance, changing posture, facial expression, and hand movements in order to deliver distinct characters. His Polonius, a character as verbose and tedious as he is a loving father, is hilarious and drew many a genuine laugh from the audience. Bent over and taking his sweet time for every piece of advice he gives (and he gives many), we’ve all at least briefly come into contact with our own version of this Polonius. Not all the characters are equally successful however. Ophelia, for instance, comes off as a bit flat and forgettable in the multitude of characters surrounding her.
It is evident that neither actor or director ever forget the audience. Parker provides enough clues so that everyone understands where they are and who they are seeing. He uses the entirety of the stage, having Bhaneja walk up, down, even turn away from and sit amongst the audience. This keeps the production dynamic and helps move the story along.
Nevertheless, the performance did have moments where the mind wandered, not surprisingly in a one-man, 2-hour show of one of Shakespeare’s most complex plays. The actor’s and director’s abilities could not quite make up for the confusion of so many characters and the length the entire time. This was especially evident after the intermission.
However, considering the daunting undertaking, this is a successful show which manages to bring the story of Hamlet close to a modern audience without sacrificing or belittling anything integral to the story or original languge.
Featuring Raoul Bhaneja
Directed by Robert Ross Parker