Look, I’m all for a good Shakespeare adaptation. As long as the execution is great, I’m on board with whatever wacky idea directors and playwrights can come up with. Unfortunately, sometimes good ideas don’t translate to good productions, and so it proves with Hamlet Private Eye. This promising play, with its youthful cast and great venue, has sadly fallen short of expectation.
I’m assuming this production was a stab at a Raymond Chandler vibe: beautiful Femmes Fatales, a disillusioned Private Detective, New York cops and a woman in distress. It’s all there, and all incredibly comedic. I have never once in my life imagined Hamlet as a particularly comic text, although I suppose it could work if the attempt wasn’t quite so obvious. As it was, I felt like an anvil was constantly knocking me about the head in an effort to make me understand the joke. Noir Shakespeare (even with elements of slapstick comedy) is a great concept, but I think it requires a drier kind of humour. And decidedly fewer cellphones.
Sadly, this play suffers from its writing. There is very little that matches the original text – not in itself a terrible thing, except that changes should add value to a re-telling. As it stands, Hamlet Private Eye has a rather obvious and predictable script, decidedly not helped by the inclusion of Shakespeare references in an attempt to seem edgy and self-referential. The decidedly tacky, borderline-offensive take on Yorick in drag was disappointing, although he did have some of the best lines in the play.
Hamlet was the most redeemable character, but had very little time on stage for the supposed star of the show. Glass Dagger Productions manage to capture the dry sarcasm of the Hamlet we all know; he was, however, disappointingly free of any madness, which drained the plot of a lot of complexity. In contrast, Ophelia was very nicely portrayed, saved from being the vapid character Shakespeare made her. In this production, she’s wonderfully real – perhaps the most relatable character of the play.
The execution had some issues too: scene transitions were often abrupt and awkward, and spotlights failed to hit their intended targets. Perhaps the production needs a little more fine-tuning and rehearsal time to make it flow more smoothly, which in turn might improve the slapstick aspect and make it a little less cringeworthy. With more thought and practice, Hamlet Private Eye might well make a good afternoon show – but as it is, I left disappointed.