A postcard review of Scorpio Theatre’s Women Playing Hamlet

Scorpio Theatre kicks off their season with a fun and interesting perspective on the performance of Shakespeare as seen by the women who perform it, and directed by Jennifer Merio in her directorial debut.

Show: Women Playing Hamlet – A Comedy About A Tragedy.

Playwright/s: William Missouri Downs.

Theatre: Scorpio Theatre, Joyce Doolittle Theatre, The Pumphouse Theatres.

Length: Two acts (135 mins, one intermission).

Genre/s: Comedy.

Premise: A woman grapples with her choices and the roles she plays on and off stage, as her life coincidentally mirrors that of the famous protagonist she is preparing to play.

Why this play? Why now?: The universal questions, conundrums, and introspection that (wo)man has dealt with since the beginning of time is braided together by one female in the present day, and one of the greatest male characters ever written in dramatic literature centuries ago.

Curiosity: I wondered if the play lands differently with those not as enamoured or familiar with the original text.

Best line: A simple, deadpan “Shut your face” response to an on-going joke.

Notable writing: A yummy treat, this well-crafted comedy by MFA industry pro, swirls two stories together like two flavours of soft serve ice-cream (topped with a sprinkles of interesting facts about Shakespeare, Hamlet and the famous female actors who played him).

Notable performances: Shandra McQueen, the actor playing Hamlet, demonstrates a deft understanding of how to underplay punchlines and pathos as she spars with her acting coach (Jenny Edwards) and the rest of the women who play the other 17 tropes, including scene-stealing barkeep Jenn MacLean.

Notable design: Mikee Ames’ costume designs range from over-the-top fun to natural realism with subtle nods to Hamlet iconography.

Notable direction: Jennifer Merio says that when she was first approached to direct, “I was both thrilled and terrified – my first reaction was I’m not qualified to do this job and everyone is gonna know it …” This turned out not to be the case. While some of the pacing and few of the roles were a little uneven, the engine of the play was kept running and this was a solid debut.

One reason to see this show: Laughter. Aficionados of theatre and Shakespeare will especially enjoy this comedy about a tragedy.

(Photo courtesy Scorpio Theatre)

Women Playing Hamlet runs at the Pumphouse Theatres until Oct. 13.

Caroline Russell-King is a playwright, dramaturg, and instructor. She is a member of The Playwrights Guild of Canada, the Dramatist Guild of America and the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. You can find her work here