College of Liberal Arts

University of Mississippi

‘Hamlet’ to Dazzle Shakespeare Festival Audiences

A king’s death, a ghost’s revelation, a brother’s ambition, a queen’s passion, and a son’s revenge–all the elements for grand tragedy can be experienced in William Shakespeare’s  “Hamlet, Prince of Denmark,” which opens Saturday, June 19, at 8 p.m. in the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Mississippi.

This Saturday’s production is part of the 2010 Oxford Shakespeare Festival’s  “A Royal Season” and one of four for “Hamlet.”

Joe Turner Cantú, “Hamlet” director and UM Department of Theater Arts acting program head, said assembling the right cast and composing a first-rate interpretation were difficult to do, but he hopes his production will be his best work.

“It is always a challenge, but the satisfaction of bringing these classic works to our audiences is the most satisfying feeling,” Cantú said. “One ‘thank you’ from an audience member makes it all worth the effort and work.”

This production is consolidated so that the performance will be 90 minutes shorter than Shakespeare’s version. It is also set in a later time–some 300 years after he penned “Hamlet.”

“I spent four months (off and on) cutting ‘Hamlet’ down to two hours and 15 minutes. This cutting moves and, so far, from everyone’s response, it achieves the goal of cutting as deeply as possible, without losing what represents the play’s ‘masterpiece’ qualities and popular, plot-motivated language,” Cantú said. “I am letting Shakespeare speak for himself in Elsinore Castle, Denmark, 1901. I have always felt that a production of ‘Hamlet’ must be elegant in style. The Edwardian period is one of the most elegant of costuming periods. Our Festival scenic designs are functional and exceptional, and in the case of ‘Hamlet,’ minimalistic yet quite elegant.”

Touring actor and first-time Shakespeare Festival participant Edwin Hanson plays Hamlet’s victim, King Claudius, and Hanson agrees that Cantú’s interpretation makes Shakespeare’s script translate well in a more modern setting.

“I think Joe’s vision of ‘Hamlet’ is brilliant. He set it in a time period that I think is a little cleaner for audiences to understand. The script we’re using has removed a lot of the ‘thees’ and ‘thous’ and is a little cleaner while maintaining the rhythm and pulse of Shakespeare’s language,” Hanson said. “He’s trimmed the script down without removing anything integral to the play. He’s just taken a lot of the extraneous material that tends to bog it down if you’re trying to do a full-length version.”

Cantú and Hanson agree that both UM theatre performance graduate Brian Tichnell’s portrayal of Hamlet as well as the performances of all the cast members will be well received.

“The cast is spellbound by Brian Tichnell’s work; every rehearsal, so far, is becoming an event unto itself,” Cantú said. “The entire cast fits like a glove and is working as an ensemble.”

“I think audiences will like our Hamlet a lot,” Hanson said.  “I think they’ll fall in love with him within the first scene and be pulling for him the entire time.”

Tickets for the performance are $14 for adults and $11 for seniors/students/youth.