Hamlet? Funny? It may be one of Shakespeare’s most celebrated plays, but the Bard’s tale of an angst-ridden prince, murder and mayhem set in a dark castle in Denmark is hardly renowned for being a giggle a minute.
Yet, David Pearson – who is directing and playing the lead role in The Doha Players’ production of it this month – is adamant that they will have audiences snorting their way through many scenes. “Shakespeare was an actor, so he knew if he were to deal with heavy issues like death, suicide, and the meaning of existence, he had to provide an audience with comic relief,” Pearson points out. “He knew if he made an audience laugh, they would tolerate him then making them cry. Too many directors, when they edit the play for length, ignore this and cut out the comedy.”
There are a number of unexpected turns to keep the audience smiling. Hamlet’s bumbling university friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, are being played by female actors (Corni Richards and Liz van der Merwe), turning on its head the tradition in Shakespeare’s day of having male actors perform female roles.
Other tweaks that combine tradition and modernity include the production being performed with the audience on all sides, just inches from the actors, as they would have been in Tudor times. And the house lights being on, reflecting how the Bard’s plays were originally performed in daylight.
Shakespeare’s works have been part of the repertoire of The Doha Players for decades, and their Hamlet features Trish Slade as Hamlet’s mother Gertrude, Gemma Robinson as his ill-fated love Ophelia, Chris Parnell as the ambitious Claudius and Stephen Artus as Polonius. Pearson, meanwhile, has juggled the lead role and the directing with his regular gig teaching English at Qatar University and his duties as executive secretary for The Doha Players. The self-confessed Shakespearean tragic acknowledges he’s taken on a huge task, but doesn’t regret a moment. “Actors reach a point in their careers when they have two choices: sit on their couches hoping someone someday will cast them in their dream roles, or get off their backsides and make these roles happen for themselves,” he says. “This is true for professionals like Ben Affleck and Mel Gibson, as well as lowly amateurs like me!”
And, of course, Pearson hopes to enthral audiences with Shakespeare’s craft. “His characters are us,” he says. “We feel what they feel. No other playwright has captured human beings so well.”
QR60 (adults), QR30 (students), Thu Mar 16, Fri Mar 17, 7.30pm. The Black Box Theatre, Education City. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or go to The Doha Players on Facebook/Twitter @TheDohaPlayers