When I walked into The Old Globe’s outdoor theater on a misty Sunday night to see Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” I immediately noticed a set that seemed to have been rolled off a new, edgy musical’s stage.
There were two simple metal structures, each two stories tall, that fit together in multiple configurations to create different backdrops. Behind them were a series of wooden panels– much like those for enhancing acoustics for instrumental performances– dotted with circular holes. And, on center stage, a tall, empty suit of knight’s armor glared down at his audience.
Before seeing the set, I assumed I was going to watch a typical Shakespearian performance, telling the story of Hamlet’s anguish-ridden existence after his father’s death and his mother’s remarriage to his vile uncle. While it adhered to Shakespeare’s original work, it mixed classic and modern elements into one performance; and, the two clashed.
I was first caught off guard by this odd melding together of styles when the ghost of Hamlet senior entered the stage to stereotypical sci-fi music, dressed in a light-up suit of armor— reminding me of Buzz Lightyear from “Toy Story.” Although Hamlet Sr. was dressed like he was visiting from the future, much of the cast was dressed in historic Elizabethan attire.
The musical score was also a blend of old and new. There was a two person ensemble perched on a balcony next to the stage that played various solos and duets, which proved powerful, especially during stirring scenes, including when the classic “To be or not to be” monologue is delivered. However, upbeat, electronic music inserts concluded each scene. This abrupt change in musical style disrupted the mood evoked in the previous scene and rushed the storyline along. Instead, quiet musical segues should have been played, enabling the audience to process what they had just watched; total silence would have been even better.
While I found the blending of artistic styles jarring, the acting became progressively impressive, making it a worthwhile play to see before it closes on Sept. 22.