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The Dartmouth
June 17, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

'Hamlet' show challenges tradition

William Shakespeare's "Hamlet" is a popular subject these days. Film giants Mel Gibson and Kenneth Branagh have both put out high budget and massively publicized film adaptations of the bard's opus.

And yet people have not been content with merely retelling the story of the prince of Denmark. Tom Stoppard's 1990 film "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead" shifts the focus of the play from Hamlet to the two bumbling fools who pester him throughout the play.

Riding this wave of Hamlet revamps, David Harbour '97 is putting his own spin on the play. While not deviating at all from the original script as Stoppard did, Harbour is confident the play is something new.

"It's definitely our Hamlet, not the Hamlet in the books," said Harbour. "We might upset Hamlet aficionados," he added with a grin.

Rather than focusing on individual actors, Harbour's performance will feature an ensemble of 25 cast members, who at certain points in the play will take different lines of the same character.

Harbour's Hamlet will focus a good deal on notions of madness, as well as the significance of Hamlet's father's ghost and the court of Denmark.

"We aren't portraying the ghost so much as a man, but rather a congregation of images in the underworld," he said.

While Branagh utilized lavish set designs and ornate costumes to flesh out his Hamlet, Harbour has a less grandiose take on Hamlet. Chamber theater, tight, realistic, intense acting, is something Harbour sees as essential to his production of Hamlet, he said.

Keeping in this spirit, there will be few props, and dress will be modern.

But chamber theater does not mean a barren stage and actors dressed completely in black. Set design and visual effects will have a good deal to do with opening up the play.

"The idea is to take a language oriented play and use theatrical space as a space for color, form, shapes, bodies, movement and dance," Harbour said.

In particular stage designers have in mind the exquisitely detailed etchings of Gustav Dore and the dark imagery of Rodin.

"We are working with images of the underworld and images of mangled bodies," said Harbour.

Harbour sees Hamlet's Denmark as a corrupt and diseased place, a place decaying physically and morally. "We are also working with images of insects and of death," said Harbour. "Denmark is a place where the king uses people as meat, or as insects."

Music will help to add weight and vigor to Harbour's Hamlet, in addition to the visual designs. There will be a live violinist, guitarist and drummer for the production, playing May 26th, May 27th and June 4th and 5th in the Bentley Theater at eight p.m.

The goal of this is to open up the play to modern audiences. "It's such a classic, you have to throw away preconceptions to achieve something new," said Harbour.

Audiences should expect a very different, very dark Hamlet, a far cry from Mel Gibson and a breath of fresh air for those weary of pompous, overbaked productions of Shakespeare's classic such as Branagh's.