Bad Hamlet? Could I not get tickets to the Good Hamlet? Look, if you are going to make me see all these shows the least you can do….Oh. Wait.
The ” Bad” Hamlet of the title refers to the 1603 Quarto version of Shakespeare’s most recognizable tragedy that many scholars have dismissed as a poor combination of bad shorthand, the recollection of minor actors, and pure fabrication. The show is a kind of Hamlet Redux with two casts: One performing text from the more widely accepted First Folio, the other performing from the ” bad” quarto.
From a scholarly point of view, Bad Hamlet is incredibly interesting. It is fascinating to see two different versions of such a well known text performed side by side. The Folio’s ” To be, or not to be, that is the question” becomes ” To be, or not to be, aye there’s the point.” in the quarto. The differences in the two texts are not dramatic, but since Hamlet is so well known and so often performed, they are noticeable.
The strength of the show is in the two Hamlets, Matt Volner ( Good Hamlet) and John Robert Keena ( Bad Hamlet). They do not simply repeat each other’s lines, they interact , play lines off each other, and exist as a strange separation of One Prince into two entities. The moments where the two Hamlets recite monologues together, joining and diverging as the two texts shift, are powerful and wonderful to watch. However, the constant shift of the other characters, and the cut down nature of the script would make it incredibly confusing to someone not very familiar with the story of Hamlet.
It was also difficult to keep track of who was part of ” Good Hamlet” and who was part of ” Bad Hamlet” when the Prince himself was not onstage. I frequently had to refer back to my program to keep it all straight.
See It: You are a Shakespeare buff and love a good alternate text; You want to see Hamlet, but you want to see it in less than an hour.
Skip It: You can’t name the major plot points of Hamlet without Sparknotes.com; You are a purist, and like your Hamlet unabridged and in pumpkin hose.
A Note( Or who I know in this show): John Geoffrion ( writer/producer), Anne Nottage( Queen/Player), and Ian Armstrong(Sound Design) are all fellow CUA Alums, and John Robert Keena is a good friend of mine. It did not affect my review.
More Fringe Reviews here.