Correction appended November 28.
While Shakespeare’s Hamlet concludes tragically with all of the main characters dying in the final act, Players’ Theatre’s production of Fortinbras launches into a raucous comedy, picking up from where Hamlet left off.
The play, written by Lee Blessing, opens in the final scene of Hamlet, with the lifeless bodies of Claudius (Ben Mayer-Goodman), Gertrude (Tamara Lam), Laertes (Alex Grasic), and Hamlet (Seb Mattey) strewn across the floor. Ostric (Alex Friesen), the courtier, is frozen in shock, while Horatio (Maka Ngwenya) is seen leaning over Hamlet’s body, exchanging a few last words with Hamlet before he finally dies. This dark beginning is a pointed choice made by director Claire Hill in order to create continuity between both plays. “I wanted the audience just to feel surrounded by this darkness,” Hill told The Daily in an interview. “I wanted the whole death and darkness and despair of Hamlet’s ending to really come through in the beginning before the comedy of Fortinbras came through.”
Focusing on the play’s comedic aspects was not the only unique directorial decision: unlike traditional depictions of Horatio, Players’ Theatre casted a woman. This choice adds a fresh layer to the character’s later interactions with Fortinbras (Oscar Lecuyer), who at one point makes advances toward her in the hopes of convincing her to support his new reign.
Following the initial scene, Fortinbras enters, impulsive and assumptive, with a flair for the dramatic. Horatio, the play’s moral compass, tries desperately to explain to him the true story behind all the dead bodies on the floor. Unbelieving of Horatio’s account of Hamlet being haunted by his father’s ghost, Fortinbras comes up with his own absurd version of events – involving a Polish spy – which he deems more believable for the public.
Lecuyer masterfully depicts the shift in Fortinbras’ character from blatant confidence to a state of indecision and self-doubt.
The chemistry between the actors is evident – the quick repartees, especially between Fortinbras and Horatio, is paced to perfection by both actors, supported by eye rolls and exasperated sighs from Horatio and melodramatic exclamations from Fortinbras.
Fortinbras’ ridicule toward ghosts soon comes back to haunt him, quite literally, as the ghosts of all the dead reappear and torment him in varying ways. Claudius and Gertrude, who were buried in sacred ground despite their wicked actions (in order to corroborate Fortinbras’ version of the story) return as cheery phantoms who spend their time asking Fortinbras to re-bury their bodies elsewhere.
Ophelia returns as a seductive ghost, concerned with keeping the true sequence of events hidden from the public. Her father, Polonius, returns as well, only to keep silent for most of the play before finally warning Fortinbras to speak the truth and to stay away from his dead daughter. Hamlet, too, arrives as a ghost and demands that the truth be told about his story.
Throughout the play, the audience witnesses Fortinbras’ struggle to balance pressure from ghosts and his own plans for ruling the kingdom successfully. Lecuyer masterfully depicts the shift in Fortinbras’ character from blatant confidence to a state of indecision and self-doubt.
Speaking with The Daily, Hill noted that the play purposefully contrasts Hamlet’s deliberate decision-making process with Fortinbras’ impulsive nature when it comes to ruling a kingdom.
Fortinbras’ ridicule toward ghosts soon comes back to haunt him, quite literally, as the ghosts of all the dead reappear and torment him in varying ways.
“In [Shakespeare’s] Hamlet, Hamlet thinks a lot and he doesn’t act, and in Fortinbras, [Fortinbras] acts a lot but doesn’t think very much, and I want people to see the consequences of both of those things and find a balance in between,” Hill said. “They have very similar beginnings, because Hamlet’s father was killed and his uncle took the throne, and the same thing happened to Fortinbras – his father was killed by Hamlet’s father, and his uncle took the throne instead of Fortinbras. […] So I want people to see how similar beginnings [can] lead to very different paths.”
With an incredible cast that prioritizes the laughs in the dark context of Hamlet’s bloodshed and subsequent hauntings, Players’ Theatre production of Fortinbras entertains greatly.
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Polonius and Ophelia were characters present in the opening scene as dead bodies. In fact, they were not present. The Daily regrets the error.