Bhaneja’s one-man Hamlet comes to town

Former Train 48 actor takes on Shakespeare in latest play

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Raoul Bhaneja

LET'S SEE WHO BLINKS FIRST. Raoul Bhaneja's one-man performance of the Shakespearean tragedy Hamlet isn't going to make you giggle when it comes to London. But, like a staring contest, it may make your eyes water.

Forget the flashy dance numbers, over-the-top costumes and space-age special effects. Raoul Bhaneja returns to theatre basics with an empty stage, a single spotlight and one of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies.

Playing all 17 characters himself, the Ottawa native is headed to London to perform the award-winning one-man show Hamlet (solo).

“It’s just bare stage, but we do try and incorporate whatever theatre space we’re in,” Bhaneja explains.

The unconventional production is the brainchild of Bhaneja and director Robert Ross Parker. Since its debut in January 2006, there have been over 80 performances in 10 cities, including London, England.

Both critics and theatre connoisseurs alike have praised the solo show. The unique spin on what is often considered Shakespeare’s greatest work has earned the Montreal English Critics Circle Award and Best Visiting Production Tours Canada and UK.

According to Bhaneja, the show aims to strip away extraneous theatrical elements and allow audiences to really connect with the play’s words.

“The audience has to participate on a different level. They really have to use their imagination. I mean, I do the best I can ... I kind of draw a sketch and people are filling in the rest. It’s more like when you read a novel. Your imagination does all this incredible work,” Bhaneja says.

Carrying the weight of 17 characters and a five-act play on his shoulders is a daunting task. The biggest challenge Bhaneja faced was memorizing his lines " with 4,042 lines and 29,551 words, Hamlet is Shakespeare’s longest play.

“This is a show where other actors will come backstage and say, ‘How the fuck did you remember all these lines?’ It’s a good feeling for an actor to hear that from another actor,” Bhaneja says.

A shorter play might have made life easier for Bhaneja, but he believes Hamlet is especially important because it examines issues that still resonate with audiences today.

“It deals with many big questions. One of them being, who are we? Who am I? What does it mean to be a thinking, living, breathing, loving, hating human being?” Bhaneja says.

Mastering the role of Ophelia was also a challenge. Though female characters were originally played by men, Bhaneja found it difficult to relate to such a complex character of a different gender.

Hamlet (solo) is just one aspect of Bhaneja’s busy life. He makes his living as a television and film actor and he’s a musician in two bluegrass/roots-style bands.

While his resume of acting gigs is composed mostly of smaller Canadian projects, those who caught a glimpse of Global’s Train 48 will recognize Bhaneja as Peter, the loud-mouthed stockbroker.

As for his one-man show, Bhaneja knows it is just one short chapter in the long and ongoing history of Hamlet.

“We’re constantly working on it. It’s sort of this ever-evolving thing. It’s bigger than all of us.”

Hamlet (solo) is playing at the Grand Theatre from Oct. 30 to Nov. 3 at 8 p.m. For tickets, visit www.grandtheatre.com.

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