Volume 94, Issue 4

Friday, June 9, 2000


Stratford Festival opens a brilliant season
Gross triumphs as Hamlet

Anne Frank's diary lives on

Stratford Rundown

TED moves into T.O.

Y2K summer music showcase

Weekend debut sets off the Sirens

Stratford Festival opens a brilliant season
Gross triumphs as Hamlet

Photo by Cylla von Tiedermann

FROM MOUNTIE TO SHAKESPEARE'S FAVOURITE SON. Paul Gross trades in his Mountie garb for long tails and ruffles in the Stratford Festival of Canada's Hamlet.

By Rebecca Morier
Gazette Staff

One must wonder why theatre actors do what they do.

Unlike their counterparts in television and film – whose jobs are arguably less difficult, better paying and seemingly more appreciated – theatre actors simply don't get the credit they deserve. At the end of the day, all they can hope for is a round of applause to indicate a job well done.

But for Paul Gross, the former star of television's Due South, the theatre is the venue that best exhibits his talent. Playing one of Shakespeare's most famous protagonists, Gross lights up the stage as Hamlet at the Stratford Festival of Canada.

For those whose knowledge of Hamlet lies amid dusty high school notebooks, the great Shakespearean tragedy tells the story of the haunted Prince of Denmark, Hamlet, the man who must get past his endless internal struggles in order to avenge his father's death. If not competently portrayed, the richness and complexity of Hamlet's character can easily be lost or mistook for insipidity.

Of the many actors who have assumed this role on stage (Sir Laurence Olivier, Kevin Kline, Keanu Reeves), Gross' portrayal is one of the best. He relishes in the role, bringing to it charisma and charm. At times, Gross seems to verge on being over-the-top, but then deftly withdraws, keeping the audience captivated.

Most importantly, Gross makes the language of the play come alive. He does not merely recite words, but rather, transmits messages with fervour and honesty. The result is intense, revealing Shakespeare's mastery of the English language and his insights into human psychology.

Out of Hamlet also comes some of the most oft-quoted epigrams including 'To be, or not to be, that is the question' and 'To thine own self be true' – quips that, when recited over time, lose impact and meaning. However, that is not the case here. For those who know the play well, the extent to which Gross and the supporting cast, evoke pathos comes almost as a surprise.

Although somewhat overshadowed by Gross' luminosity, the rest of the cast deliver competent performances. Domini Blythe, who plays Hamlet's mother Gertrude, balances a strong yet supple character with seeming ease. However, Marion Day's portrayal of Ophelia lacked the poignance crucial to her character, while her father, Polonius (played by Jerry Franken) lacked comic irony.

In general, the cast comes together as a whole, albeit around Gross, like planets around the sun. The memorable last scene highlights the cast as a well-assembled ensemble, as they cleverly execute the famous blood bath scene. In fact, this scene is made potent not only by the meshing of the talented players, but also by the strong stage direction and overall aesthetic.

From the play's start, the effective set design boasts a simple, yet elegant beauty. The opening scene establishes the mood magnificently with the meeting of falling snow and rising smoke, complemented by subtle, haunting music.

Despite how well all of the elements of the play come together, for a moving performance, there is no doubt it is Gross who takes the audience's breath away with his blend of raw talent and refined skill.

When the final line is spoken and the rifles go off in a soldier's salute, viewers will not be able to resist clapping, cheering and rising to their feet. Bravo.

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Copyright The Gazette 2000