Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 6, No. 0045. Tuesday, 24 January, 1995.
From: Christine Mack Gordon <
Date: Monday, 23 Jan 95 10:00:57 -0500
Subject: Reviews of Keanu's Hamlet
Here are the three reviews I've received via the Internet so far. Enjoy!
(Please note that these are all reproduced without permission.)
[As I understand, these reviews can be reproduced for "fair use" so long as
they are not used commercially or sold. --HMC]
Winnipeg Free Press Saturday, January 14
Every actor who utters "This is I, Hamlet the Dane" is under intense scrutiny
to justify the claim.
None more so than Keanu Reeves, the Hollywood movie star returning to the stage
to star in the triumphant MTC production of Hamlet, which opened Thursday to a
Reeves pulled on the dark tights of the troubled Prince Of Denmark and pulled
off a credible princely performance, crowned with power, poetry, and humor.
The role may be worn through with familiarity, but Reeves commands our
attention throughout this visually rich, strongly acted, and clear minded
The VIP laden opening night crowd accorded Reeves and the cast a well earned
standing ovation. But not even the screams of adulation from some of his female
fans drew a smile from the still melancholy looking Reeves.
More likely this sweet prince was exhausted and relieved from passing acting's
ultimate test. His was a mercurial, intense, and physically heroic Hamlet.
Any Hamlet has to face a house divided, and no doubt Reeves will be taken to
task for his un-Shakespearean voice, as well as for not always sustaining the
music of the words and their meaning. He did not flatter the "To be or not to
be" soliloquy where Hamlet contemplates "self-slaughter" but delivered a
stirring "Oh what a rogue and peasant slave" to close out the first act with a
His portrayal will not share the same breath with that of legendary Hamlets. He
is a younger Hamlet than most, not necessarily a better one.
His Hamlet is not the traditional Hamlet, wrapped in pale and inky despair.
Reeves is a fierce and demanding rebel hell-bent for revenge, awaiting only a
proper opportunity. When he says he could drink hot blood, he is convincing.
His antic disposition cloaking his plan for revenge is nicely worked out. His
comic scenes are all realized and then some.
The climactic swordfight scene - a cut above the typical offering thanks to
fight director B.H. Barry - reveals an athletic Reeves with plenty of swash and
Reeves's work in his opening scenes did not bode well, as he portrayed a
malcontented Hamlet, who returns to Denmark brooding over the death of his
father, and his mother's all too quick marriage to his uncle Claudius, the new
His acting was bloodless and his delivery so breathless as to raise doubts as
to whether or not he would survive this stage ordeal.
But as with many actors, Reeves began to find the passion for his prince as
soon as he began to move around set designer Brian Perchaluk's cold damp
In such dreary greyness sits King Claudius's opulent and decadent court,
pervaded with a sense of its own imminent destruction. The courtiers are all
finely dressed in Debra Hanson's eye popping scarlet and gold costumes.
The production is more than three hours and 30 minutes long. But director Lewis
Baumander avoids Shakespearean tedium by keeping his production moving briskly.
It was not the endurance test it could be.
Baumander provides capable and invisible direction, which is sovereign for its
He also adds several fine touches, such as a projection that serves as a window
on the action. When Hamlet is feigning madness, the moon representing lunacy
Hamlet puncuates the second act by throwing his sword thorugh the stained glass
window depiction of the madonna and child, signifying his break with his mother
just before he is to confront her in her closet.
Surrounding Reeves was an impressive cast headed by Stephen Russell, who ofers
Claudius as a haunted, corrupt usurper. Louisa Martin, Baumander's wife, is a
weak shallow Gertrude, who is terrified by the pressure of events she does not
The resourceful Robert Benson is a deftly amusing old poop of a Polonius, a
pumped up domestic tyrant in need of some deflating.
As Ophelia, Liisa Repo-Martell is a casting conundrum. Although a more than
competent actor, her childlike Ophelia is mismatched with Reeves's virility.
Andrew Akman happily storms the part of Laertes, a man of finely tortured
nobility who unlike Hamlet, acts immediately without a thought to avenge the
death of his father.
Gary Reineke's strong work as the ghost, grave digger, and player king, is an
example of how placing superior actors in small roles raises a production.
The Winnipeg contingent in the cast did themselves proud. Lora Schroeder was a
fine player queen, as was the platoon of small part men of Elsinore: Gene Pyrz,
Wayne Nicklas, Robb Paterson, Derek Aasland, Myles Burdeniuk, Dan Deurbrouck,
and Neal Rempel.
To see or not to see Hamlet? No question, based on the opening night
performance. (Four stars out of five)
[Note from the friend who forwarded the article to me: "The same paper has
comments from some of the international critics which I'll post later. The
London Sunday Times critic compared Keanu to a young Olivier !! Quite a
Ottawa Citizen Saturday, January 14, 1995
Speed Demon Reeves delivers uneven Prince of Denmark
Winnipeg- A usurping new king and his queen coil and uncoil in elevated sexual
ecstasy, while stained-lass images of the Crucifixion and the Madonna and her
Child provide and ironic visual counterpoint.
Meanwhile, below and in the foreground, another image is taking shape on the
stage of the Manitoba Theatre Centre, that of a young prince mourning at the
tomb of his murdered father.
Such is our first glimpse of Keanu Reeves as Hamlet.
The scene is nowhere in Shakespeare's text, but it does provide a powerful
beginning to what is destined to be the most talked-about production of the
current Canadian theatrical season - a production that sold out its 3 1/2 week
run months before it opened.
It also gives doting fans (some have from far away as Japan) the chance to get
over their initial excitement at seeing Hollywood's hottest superstar (Speed,
Little Buddha) in the flesh before settling down to the serious business fo
Reeves takes playing Shakespeare very seriously. It really isn't his fault
that his celebrity status has stireed up a media circus: foreign press outlets
converging on wintry Winnipeg this month have reanged from teh respectable (The
Guardian) to the direputable (the U.S. tabloid shows, Hard Copy and Current
The 30 year old actor, who was raised in Toronto, could have been doing another
movie this winter. Instead, he has chosen to come to Canada's oldest
established regional theatre (a theatre whoe total budget is less than half the
$7-million fee he now commands for a single movie) to play Hamlet for a salary
of $2,000 a week.
Given the glare of public scrutiny, it's a courageous initiative for him to
But it's also a foolhardy one: this is the Everest of roles for even the most
experienced of young actors, and they take it on at their own peril.
So it's scarcely surprising that this is a frequently uneven characterization.
At this stage in his development, Reeves simply lacks the equipment to sustain
such a role.
Even so, his Hamlet is not quite the act of effrontery that one might expect.
Reeves never disgraces himself. And if some cast members do act circles around
him - notably Stephen Russell and Robert Benson who are both splendid in the
respective roles of Claudius and Polonius - Reeves's Hamlet far outshines the
insipid Ophelia of Liisa Repo-Martell and the excessively bland Horatio of
What Reeves does bring is a strong and sometimes commanding stage presence,
emotional sensitivity and genuine warmth of character, a sleek and assured
athleticismm, and some refreshing moments of humor.
He's also capable on occasion of surging dramatic power, such as his explosion
of rage and psychological pain over the murder of his father, the king, by
Hamlet's ursurping uncle, Claudius, and the latter's "incestuous" marriage to
Hamlet's mother, Gertrude. But repeatedly, Reeves is undermined by his own
lack of classical theatre technique. True, he brings intelligence to the role.
But - and this may partly be due to opening night jitters - there's a real
problem with a number of Hamlet's speeches. There's a failure to find the
right rhythm, phrasing and cadence, to achieve th fusion of sound and meaning
so vital in communicating Shakespeare to audiences.
The soliloquies are particularly disappointing in the regard, even To Be Or Not
To Be is perfunctorily spoken, without conviction or emotional reflection.
One searches in vain for a sustained dramatic sensibility both in this
production and in Reeves' performance.
On the other hand, there have been productions of Hamlet far more pretentious -
and far worse - at both the Stratford and the Royal Shakespeare Company.
And one must give Reeves credit. He is never less than interesting on stage.
And on those occasions when he does fail, he does so with honor.
Western edition of the Toronto Globe and Mail.
REEVES AS HAMLET? IT LOOKS GOOD ON HIM
Let's get the most important point right out front: Keanu Reeves is not a bad
Hamlet. I've seen better, I've seen worse.
He did not embarrass himself in the Manitoba Theatre Centre's Hamlet which
opened Thursday night, and that was a considerable risk for the hunky Hollywood
superstar, who made his fame and fortune mostly in film roles that could
generally be described as bimbo-esque. He didn't really need to return to the
stage to take on arguably the most difficult, complex role in the Shakespearean
canon. But he did, and it looks good on him.
All right, he won't make anyone forget Geilgud or Branagh, or even Mel Gibson,
but Reeves remembered all of his lines -- all 1,500-plus of them -- and
delivered them without a hint of "hey, dude." If anything, he overenunciated,
carefully pronouncing every consonant in the text ("bit-ter.") After a shaky
half-hour or so on opening night, in which his voiced sounded breathless and
thin, he limbered up and began speaking with punch and vigour, and a lot more
assurance, and his delivery of the famous monologues was plain-spoken and
clear. He is undeniably better in the more physical scenes and with the larger
emotions; he does anger and madness well, but his brooding seems more like
fretfulness. And he does look great in tights.
Director Lewis Baumander -- who directed Reeves in Romeo and Juliet at
Toronto's Leah Posluns Theatre many years ago -- seems to have gotten the max
out of his young star, partly through intensive coaching, and partly by
tailoring a large-scale, extravegantly visual production that well suits
Reeves' undeniable physical presence. His fatal duelling scene with Laertes
(Andrew Akman), arranged by fight director B.H. Barry, is sprawling, violent
Brian Perchaluk's set -- a gothic creation of enormous stone pillars, arches,
buttresses, platforms and stairways -- simply shouts "castle," and Debra
Hanson's costumes are elaborate, colourful and bejewelled confections that
would fit right into the court of any Renaissance prince. There's enough velvet
in this show to clothe Winnipeg.
Baumander has surrounded his star with a generally strong supporting cast.
These are mostly veteran actors who know what diction is and don't have
problems "speaking Shakespeare."
Stephen Russell and Louisa Martin are especially good as Claudius and Gertrude,
Hamlet's uncle and mother. Russell is a particularly smooth-talking and
decadent Claudius, murderer of the late king (his brother and Hamlet's father)
and usurper of both the throne and the widowed queen. For her part, and in
keeping with the tone of the production, Martin is a very sexual Gertrude.
(In one very interesting directorial touch, Baumander opens his Hamlet with the
Prince standing silently over his father's body, while above and behind him, in
hot red lighting and little else, Claudius and Gertrude perform a stylized,
graceful and pretty mime-dance of lust. Apart from anything else, this gives
the audience a look at Reeves, permitting his more vocal fans to get their
cheers and moans and swoons out of the way before the play actually begins.)
Robert Benson, decked out like a Borgia cardinal, is a superb Polonius, holding
a fine edge of dignity while playing the fussy pomposity for laughs. Liisa
Repo-Martell is at the other end of the scale as Ophelia, Hamlet's sometime
love interest; her mad scenes are good in a twitchy sort of way, but she seems
far out of her depth through most of the play. Nor was I much impressed by Gary
Reineke, who gave the same bland, restrained tone to both the Ghost and the
Player King, and barely loosened the stays for a jokey turn as the Gravedigger.
Baumander and the MTC were clearly intent on doing it up big for Reeves, and so
they have. He, in his turn, has given them a credible performance and a red-hot
ticket -- Hamlet is already sold out for its entire run.