To be, or not to be?
That wasn’t much of a question once actors in the local Bard in the Park troupe got the idea of staging Hamlet.
But it was a crazy pitch.
“Let’s do the one that no one ever does in a park!” is how actor and producer Andrew Patterson remembers it.
Hamlet is among Shakespeare’s best-known plays, complete with a brooding Danish prince, a murder most foul, and more murders after that.
But with a four-hour runtime, hardly anyone dares perform it for an audience sitting on a lawn.
Still, the all-volunteer Bard in the Park is nothing if not up for a challenge. And given that they make their own costumes, several are expert with scissors.
This spring, Patterson and director Keith Williams managed to snip Shakespeare’s original Hamlet down to a park-friendly two hours. Actor James Soares-Correia, who played the villain Iago in last year’s Othello, was willing to take on the daunting title role.
As it happens, the Stratford Festival got the same idea and made Hamlet its feature play.
“Every year we forget to consult with Stratford,” joked Williams, who doubles as Guildenstern in the play.
“No, they forget to consult with us,” said Patterson, who happens to play Guildenstern’s best friend, Rosencrantz.
Melissa Beveridge, who plays Gertrude, led the effort to re-tailor last year’s flashy Othello costumes to better suit Hamlet’s darker mood.
Speaking during an early dress rehearsal, Beveridge was interrupted by actor Caedmon Ricker-Wilson, who walked out from behind a bedsheet dressed in Laertes’ outfit – a black, fur-lined cloak and a dark jacket studded with silvery, star-like buttons.
“They’re not precisely Dark Ages Denmark,” said Williamson.
“They’re more like Value Village Toronto,” said Patterson. “But made wonderful by Melissa.”
For his part, Soares-Correia said every actor knows in the back of his mind that he might one day “shake hands with Hamlet,” and try to give him life.
Many are daunted by the intensity of the role, and by its length – Hamlet has more lines than any other character in Shakespeare’s three dozen plays.
But Soares-Correia welcomed the challenge, noting that Shakespeare also gives the young prince plenty of fuel for drama.
“That first scene, watching my uncle schmoozing with my mother and everyone hanging on him hand and foot – that definitely fuels Hamlet’s first monologue,” he said.
“‘Oh, that this too too solid flesh would melt,’” he said, quoting the play.
“What a way to start.”
Bard in the Park will perform Hamlet at the Alex Christie band shell in Kew Gardens at 7 p.m. every night from June 16 to June 20, with 2 p.m. matinee shows on Saturday, June 20 and Sunday, June 21.