- Hamlet: The First Quartoby Taffety Punk Theatre Company
The Taffety Punk Theatre Company advertised Hamlet: The First Quartonot as a “tragedy” or a “tragicall history,” as the 1603 title page of Q1 would have it, but rather as “a play.” Under the capable direction of Joel David Santner, the Taffety Punks created an inventive ensemble piece that successfully displaced Prince Hamlet as the principal reservoir for the audience’s affective energies. In effect, they staged Hamletas a tragedy, but the end result was not simply the tragedy of Hamlet but an interpretation that found tragedy in every corner of Elsinore. The production was also full of inventive design elements: from the assault of zig-zagging flashlights as soon as the house lights went out, to the use of chalk to transform the main playing space throughout the show.
Marcus Kyd played Hamlet with a startling lack of self-indulgence. There was no solipsistic lyricism to Kyd’s soliloquies. He spoke directly to the audience. His Hamlet was purposeful and full of dark humor, not ambivalent or moony. Kyd bounced off the bluntness of the “bad quarto” lines to keep up an energetic pace: “To be, or not to be, I there’s the point” ( The Tragicall Historie of Hamlet Prince of Denmarke[London, 1603]: TLN 1710). His offhand delivery was playful and bloody-minded: all fun and games until someone got stabbed. He scrawled aggressively on the blank chalkboard that walled one side of the small playing space that one [End Page 663]may “:)” and be a “VILLAIN.” (Incidentally, his going backwards like a crab reduced a nine-year-old in the audience to hysterics.) Hamlet’s use of chalk made everything he “set down” necessarily ephemeral, but his inscriptions, although smudged and overwritten as the show progressed, served their purpose in reminding him (and the audience) of the Ghost’s charge. During the Mousetrap scene, Claudius (Daniel Flint) was invited to sit on a bench against the back wall of the playing space right beneath the word “VILLAIN,” which by this point was only barely legible and at risk of disappearing completely.
Clad in cargo pants, Kyd’s Hamlet messed about with the players with easy camaraderie. The performance of the Mousetrap emphasized Hamlet’s disruptiveness, as he stepped into the playing space to correct the actors’ delivery. When Hamlet took over the part of the murderer himself, a red spot subsumed both him and the sleeping victim, drawing the King up from his seat into the same red circle. When the poison was poured into his ear, the dying man roared, and in that noise, the King broke up the play and called for “Lights!” The porousness between stage action and spectatorship structured by the King’s immersion in the red spot of the play-within-a-play had already extended outwards to playgoers when Hamlet’s observation about “guilty creatures sitting at a play” (TLN 1629) brought up house lights on the audience. While Kyd delivered a personable, funny, violent, and sympathetic Hamlet, the character was not an aesthetic end goal in itself, but rather oriented outward toward others within the play’s fictional world and forward toward revenge.
By refusing a myopic focus on Hamlet’s psychology, the production opened up affective space for other characters. In her mad scene, Ofelia (Esther Williamson) seized the chalk Hamlet had been using throughout to mark the wall during his soliloquies. Instead of distributing herbs, she scribbled crude approximations of flowers over Hamlet’s fading...