The title of Jacob Sidney’s futuristic Hamlet refers to the Dane’s dead father Maximus, a character who never appears live on stage but only materializes as part of Hillary Bauman’s black & white anime projections on a screen behind the actors. The audience sees the ghost fade in and out behind them while a mirthless Hamlet peers out over the audience and responds to his father somewhere out in the empty wasteland beyond us.
It is a stylistic element that characterizes Sidney’s Hamlet in a production that is a steely mix of live action and introspective contemplation. As an exercise, it is immensely thought-provoking, but because each of the actors is already working within his or her own individual style, it keeps the sum of its parts fragmented.
For instance, several of the actors use a very deliberate, contained film style of acting; others take their characters in a more melodramatic or theatrical direction, both physically and vocally; and still others choose a contemporary approach that interjects some much-needed humor in this bleak tragedy, but as a whole, the varying techniques make the production feel unfocused.
Individual performances may be strong but a larger sense of purpose is missing. With Hamlet also in a world of his own, it keeps us at a distance, especially since this is a Hamlet who doesn’t talk to the audience during many of his famous speeches but instead wrestles with his thoughts internally as the text is displayed on the screen and heard via voiceover. It is an interesting concept, in theory, but its execution isn’t completely successful.
And yet I could see what was intended. The beauty of a work at this early stage is that each time it is placed before an audience its team discovers more about how to achieve its goals. What Hamlet Max lacks in urgency it makes up for in effect but that isn’t enough yet to sustain a 90-minute piece.
What does work incredibly well is the production design. The integration of Bauman’s artwork, animation and graphic design by Chris Hutchings, Mike Rainey’s projection design, Mark Nichols’ original music and Martin Carrillo’s sound design creates a surreal thru-line for the play, subtly shifting in tone to underscore the action.