Hamlet in High Park

This past week I went to see Canadian Stage’s Production of Hamlet presented as part of their ‘Shakespeare in High Park’ season. This season they are performing Hamlet and All’s well that Ends Well. So today, all you wonderful people get a review of the performance courtesy of yours truly. I feel the need to preface, first, that I believe that any performance of Shakespeare is a worthy cause; and that I think there’s always something to be learned from public performance. So if you were hoping I was going to tear something apart, I apologize.

 

First off, I’d like to congratulate the actors in the show on making some bold choices. Hamlet is a big beast to tackle, and one with a long legacy of legendary actors; so coming at it as a performer can be downright scary. The actors in the show made strong character choices, confident moves and sure moments of audience inclusion. I really enjoyed watching them play with Hamlet in Hamlet.

 

I also really loved the set. It’s hard to describe but it’s beautiful. It had a modern feel without feeling out of place. A lovely cross between IKEA, modern art, and a library full of books. (I am clearly not build for set description). It was well-lit, expansive and well suited to encompass all the action. It was a great Denmark, a fine graveyard, and some lovely countryside. I can’t wait to see how the set is used for the other play.

 

The director made some wonderful choices and the crew worked together seamlessly. It’s a difficult show to direct for the same reason it’s a difficult show to act – so many greats have done it before. You don’t want to copy anyone, but you also want to put on a great show. I thought the artistic choices in the show were made confidently and worked well. The actors’ interaction with the set was realistic and compelling. The lighting and sound worked together with the action smoothly, and the set and scene changes ran very well. It was, technically, a very good show.

 

Over all, I thoroughly enjoyed my time on the hill watching Hamlet in High Park. It’s a great show and I recommend a viewing. It’s a lot of fun to be a part of a live audience and even more fun when you’re encouraged to bring a picnic.

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The Weird Sisters

Last week I read Eleanor Brown’s “The Weird Sisters”. And this week you lovelies get a review. Let me start off with two things. The first is that I have a sister; two in fact. So I came at this book already full to the brim with sibling woes. The second is that the tagline of the book “We love each other. We just don’t happen to like each other very much.” is remarkably astute. It’s lovely book that chronicles the pitfalls and promontories that happen when three adult sisters come home to take care of their mother during her battle with cancer. Throw in a Shakespeare-quoting professor for a father and plenty of secrets apiece and you have a wonderful little thrill-ride of a book.

As someone with siblings, I am always a little wary when a book purports to contain sibling relations. As a Shakespeare-lover I am likewise cautious of any book that professes allegiance to the bard. Let me tell you, my timidity was pleasantly overcome. I thoroughly enjoyed the book. To keep in the spirit of three sisters, I’ll give you three sister-reasons why I am so fond of it.

The first sister-reason is the sisters. It was so wonderfully to see an accurate portrayal of three female siblings not liking each other. I love my siblings. I do not always like my siblings. Sometimes it feels like artifice when siblings in media get along so often. While I’m sure there are real sets of siblings like that out there; I have never seen them. And it’s reassuring to see interactions similar to our own on the page.

The second sister-reason (maybe a little predictably) is the way the book treats Shakespeare. The father of the three adult sisters in the book is a Shakespeare professor who converses mainly in Shakespeare quotes. Which is really neat until you want to know exactly what he’s saying – a phenomonen all three sisters grapples with at least once. But growing up with such a father, all three sisters quote from the bard copiously throughout the book in their own unique way. It’s a fantastic injection of Shakespeare into both everyday life and family emergencies.

The third sister-reason is the writing. Eleanor Brown weaves three separate stories around each other like braiding until you have one solidified piece of literature. She moves between story and dialogue as easy as reaching for the butter at a dinner table; and makes you relish every move. Her dialogue between family is heartfelt and meaningful; her stories come together with the characters so well I forgot they weren’t real. She brought the world of a university town to life and lifted character breathing from the pages. Talent, she certainly has.

If I had to give it an out-of-ten rating, I’d give it a ten. It was a joy to read and a lovely experience to share. I highly recommend “The Weird Sisters” for all who are weird, have sisters, or just love Shakespeare. You’ll feel like a weird sister yourself before you’ve finished the book.

Three Good Reasons

As promised, today we’ll be discussing some of the possible meanings the number three had to Shakespeare. In an effort to understand the bard’s apparent fascination with the number, I turned to some historical resources to see what the Elizabethans thought of the number three. And just to keep in the spirit of things, I’m going to discuss three possible preoccupations Shakespeare could have had with the number three. Get your counting hats on, ladies and gentlemen, here we go.

 

The first reason Shakespeare could have been drawn to the use of the number three is its’ obvious ties to the church. The Holy Trinity has been an ecclesiastical symbol for a long time and, in Shakespeare’s day of strict religion; it would have been a very powerful one. Literally. Invoking three’s meant you were invoking a number that represented power – religious, and balanced. So Shakespeare’s witches become more powerful when there’s three of them. And his lovers from Love’s Labour’s Lost make a stronger point as a trio, because they are representing something more powerful still – the holy trinity.

 

The second reason Shakespeare may have doles out threes in excess is that we remember them. It is said it takes three repetitions of something to remember it; though before this saying was popular people still knew repetition was the key to remembering. Shakespeare’s Will the schoolboy in The Merry Wives of Windsor is repeating his Latin in one of the scenes. So maybe old Will is trying to make sure we remember all those things he put in threes. The witches are certainly important later on in Macbeth, as are the three friends in Hamlet, and the lovers in As You Like It. They come back to us – they are not only worth remembering but integral to the plot – necessary to remember.

 

The third one is superstition. Even if we go so far as to assume Shakespeare was above its’ lure; he would have certainly been aware his audience wasn’t. People in Elizabethan England believed that the events happening to higher powers on earth reflected what was happening above it. “On earth as it is in heaven” as it were. Shakespeare’s trinities are therefore not just echoing the holy one, but also the superstitions surrounding the unholy ones as well. The witches in Macbeth, the murderous friends in Hamlet, the three caskets in The merchant of Venice; all reflect this superstition that the good from above is either echoed or inverted below. And this adds to the mystery and magic of the plays; it brings the element of suspense into the stage drama – will all be righted? The trinity restored? Will superstitions prove true? The suspense to a crowd of superstitious Elizabethans would have been irresistible.

 

So, batting three for three, we’ll finish here. I won’t prolong the joke unnecessarily by adding on a third article on threes (though it is tempting). Instead I’ll close with this; try noticing how many groups of threes you yourself assemble in a given day – why do you do it? And remember:

“Thrice the brinded cat hath mewed.
Thrice and once the hedgepig whined.
Harpier cries “’Tis time, ‘tis time.”

 

 

 

 

Three’s Company

 

I’m in the process of reading ‘The Weird Sisters’ by Eleanor Brown; and, while the review will come along in the next weeks, it’s got me thinking about threes. I’ll do a quick sidebar here and say that I recommend the book wholeheartedly to anyone who likes quoting Shakespeare, has a sibling, or who enjoys witty banter. I’ve loved reading it so far and can’t wait to see how it ends. But back to the power of three.

 

I’ll start off with the obvious. The Holy Trinity, the primary colours, the three musketeers, triangles, and pyramids. But there are some not-so-obvious ones, too: the rule of thirds, Celtic knots, the three bells, the three-inch hem rule. There’s a lot to say for each, and Shakespeare gets in on the action. His plays are filled with groups of threes; all balanced, exciting and ever-mysterious.

 

In Macbeth; we have the three weird sisters, their three prophesies, and Macbeth’s three (major) crimes to ascend the throne. In Much Ado About Nothing; we have the three bachelors, the three courted ladies, and the three deceptions. In Love’s Labour’s Lost, we have the ladies and lords trifecta again. In Hamlet we have the three murder attempts, the three royal men, and the three friends. I could go on, but I’m sure you can connect the dots. Shakespeare jumped on the three bandwagon like a cat on a mouse.

 

But why? Why all the threes? Would not two or four have been equally balanced? Wouldn’t they be just as dramatic? William Shakespeare purposely chose to use groups of threes in his plays. But why? Were three’s symbolic in Shakespeare’s time? Was it religious motivation, patron preferences, or a balance? The truth is, we may never know all of the reasons Shakespeare gives us helpings in threes. However; we can certainly speculate on some of the reasons. Check out this coming Thursday’s article for reasons of three.