Prince of Denmark- Review

Brianna McFarlane

                There’s something rotting in the state of Denmark as Michael Lesslie’s Prince of Denmark, directed by Third Wall Theatre’s James Richardson, transports the audience to the time before a vengeance-seeking phantom appears and before the famed “to be or not to be” was ever pondered. A prequel to the Bard’s infamous tragedy Hamlet and performed by the teenage cast of Third Wall Academy, we see just how angst-filled these familiar characters are. This particular production is one of the stronger ones I’ve seen at this year’s Fringe, though it does have its weaknesses.

The text itself revolves around the private, mind you PG, exchanges between a positively fiery Ophelia and a brooding Hamlet that suddenly become a little more public than the lovers’ would like. Despite their best efforts, but more so on account of the ever changing loyalties of the servants, Ophelia’s jealous brother, Laertes, finds out about these rendezvous and vows to kill Hamlet for dishonouring his beloved sister. After much planning and re-planning, a play within a play, and lots of foreshadowing to Ophelia’s ultimate doom, the audience gets its much awaited duel and an interesting ending that colours our Prince of Denmark in a light not seen on stage very often.

The design of this show, by Graham Price, is incredibly well done especially for a Fringe show. Performed at the University of Ottawa’s Academic Hall, the large space is used to its full potential. The brown paper backdrop really adds depth to the stage and one of my favourite scenes is the one where you can see the larger than life shadows of the people fencing behind them. I also really enjoyed the two wooden detachable set pieces used to create the different places and levels on stage. They are versatile and are used in creating door frames, a throne room, a cliff face, and a secret alcove by a river. The transitions between scenes are done well and have a dance-like quality to them.

I must applaud the kids of Third Wall Academy, a year long audition based program where the participants are trained under Third Wall Theatre’s resident acting company, for taking on and holding their own with such a well-known story and much beloved characters. Particular standouts were Ophelia and Laertes, who both command the stage with their presence. Our Hamlet is a touch moody, but Osric brings some much needed comic relief to the angst filled performance. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern seemed a little hesitant to play the clowns, but with a few more shows under their belts I’m sure they’ll come into their own. Horatio was good, though he was most memorable as the masked actor, and Reynalda is played strong, though one dimensional.

Overall, I quite enjoyed this production. Though it was a tad moody for my liking, the design elements and the staging made it worth watching. It was absolutely refreshing to see some youth on stage at this year’s festival (especially since the Youth Infringement spot is only two performances) and if they keep up this good work I definitely think we’ll be seeing them on stage at future Fringe festivals.