A One Man Hamlet
nytheatre.com review by Frank Anthony Polito
August 23, 2006
If you think tackling the role of Hamlet is a daunting task for an actor, try tackling it as a one-man show. Which is what Australian actor Will Bligh does in A One Man Hamlet, presented by Haus Der Farben Productions.
Adapted by Andrew Cowie, this 70-minute version of one of—if not the—most produced Shakespeare play (I've seen more than half a dozen productions myself) offers us Bligh in the role of the Prince of Denmark, along with his "ghost" father and a couple of the Players in the play-within-a play. Making it a one man show-within-a one man show!
On a stage with nothing but a small black trunk, Bligh appears in a simple white dress shirt, black pants, and black shoes. A twelve-inch dagger at his side, he removes from the trunk a variety of props he will use to tell the story of a young man, "commanded by the ghost of his father to murder his uncle."
Citing the First Quarto, the Second Quarto and the Folio as its source material, Cowie's adaptation not only features Hamlet's famous "soliloquies," it includes scenes from the rest of the play. Bligh and director Lauren Pfitzer have shaped his performance so that it happens in one of three ways: either to internalize (during soliloquies like "To be or not to be") or to address the audience (which is when Bligh is at his best; I kid you not, when Hamlet says, "Good friends...Never make known what you have seen tonight...Nay, but swear't, " I wanted to stand up and do it!) or to talk to imaginary characters he places on the stage with him (Hamlet's love, Ophelia; Hamlet's Queen mother, Gertrude; the Players to whom Hamlet gives his famous "advice.")
Again, when Bligh engages the audience—daring to look us directly in the eye—is when he rocks as Hamlet. It's when I was most routing for him to kill that (literal) mother-f***er of an Uncle of his! But when he excluded us—posing questions only to himself—that's when he lost me. (If the eyes are the windows of the soul, when I could see into Bligh's soul is when I truly cared for him.)
A totally engaging moment occurs in A One Man Hamlet—thanks to the lighting design of Shane Stevens. A simple pool indicates the arrival of the "ghost." Which Bligh steps into—as if being pulled by the unseen force—actually becoming the ghost of Hamlet's murdered father (and also showing his diversity as a performer).
I do commend Will Bligh for daring to tackle such a feat. I also encourage him to play each and every moment with the kind of strength he does when he's at his best—including his audience.