I just returned from a brilliant rendition of Shakespeare’s Hamlet at the Yukon Arts Centre. One man, Raoul Bhaneja, did the whole play–or an edited version of the whole play–but he did every part, not just Hamlet’s soliloquies. He had a box of light and an edge of darkness that he ran around making us believe he was seven or eight or ten people. It was, in a word, stunning. You might think that it will become boring–one man doing everything–and yet, every character received the same high quality attention. I can’t imagine the inner-acting work that went on to understand every character, embody every person. “I wanted to give everyone their chance,” Bhaneja said during the Q & A after the show.
It is a two hour show, and Bhaneja says about 15,000 words (from his own estimation). He nuances characters with a gesture–Rosencrantz, his arm in the air; Guildentstern, leaning on one knee; Gertrude with her hand over her chest; Polonius stooped; Horatio a bit rigid and formal; Ophelia shy and uncertain. His voice takes on multiple voices–a Sybil of sorts–but whose accents define the boundaries of the characters well enough for you to imagine, and I kept doing this, as if there were really six or seven people on stage and they were just being revealed to you one at a time as they spoke, as if they just came through the haze to speak.
Because Bhaneja edited the work, the transitions might be a bit altered, transitions from scene to scene. But when I watched him end one scene with Hamlet and then start the next scene with Claudius I was struck by the statement it made about their characters. Having one man portray both Claudius and Hamlet and crossfade into them gives the viewer this chance to see the two men as more similar, more equal, two sides of the same coin. It’s easy to delineate the characters when they are played by separate actors, but when one man does them, it actually makes you think about how similar they all are.