The Princess and the Handmaiden & Hamlet

by Lynn on November 29, 2009

in Archive,Picks & Pans

Lorraine Kimsa Theatre for Young People, until December 30 & the Enwave Theatre at Harbourfront until November 29

Two very different shows opened yesterday. THE PRINCESS AND THE HANDMAIDEN at the Lorraine Kimsa Theatre for Young People and HAMLET produced by Necessary Angel as part of the World Stage Festival. Our theatre critic, Lynn Slotkin saw them both and is here to tell us about them.

Hello Lynn. Usually when you review two shows there’s a connection. What’s the connection kid’s show and HAMLET?

Initially nothing. The thing that connected these two shows for me was that I really like the theatre companies producing them. The Lorraine Kimsa Theatre for Young People consistently produces thoughtful, quality theatre for young people of all ages. THE PRINCESS AND THE HANDMAIDEN is a case in point. With all the ‘grownup’ theatre going on, the Lorriane Kimsa gets shoved out of being mentioned.

I wanted to address that.

NECESSARY ANGEL Theatre Company, producing HAMLET does edgy, bold productions that turn convention on its ear. But after seeing both shows, they have more in common than I thought.

How so?

Both have taken the source material and either expanded, revised, refined or cut it to its bare bones. The results are illuminating in both cases with some moments of exasperation, and that’s not a bad thing either.


It’s based on a Grimm’s Brothers Fairy tale Called THE GOOSE GIRL. A simple story of a Princess who is sent to the next kingdom to marry the prince. Her handmaiden goes with her. On the way the handmaiden gets fed up with waiting on the Princess and forcibly switches places with her. Composer/lyricist/writer, Leslie Arden, has fleshed out the slight story, and expanded it to be a sophisticated tale of friendship, awakening of responsibility, loyalty, tenacity and being true to oneself. It’s a love story on many levels, but it doesn’t finish with a conventional ending. Rather it has a really smart, mature ending, and Arden’t lyrics and music are lush, complex, witty and sophisticated.

And HAMLET. What can be done to it that hasn’t already been done?

You may well ask. Necessary Angel Theatre Company has engaged guest director Graham McLaren to direct this. The play is slashed to an intermissionless two hours and dwells on the intrigue and sinister aspects of the play.

This is a hard world of aggressive sex, drugs and violence. It does not seem out of place for a play in which the restless ghost of a murdered king compels his son Hamlet to seek revenge. It doesn’t seem out of place when you know the brother of the former king killed him, and then married his brother’s wife. And the way they go at it, they were probably having an affair to begin with.

Sometimes the poetry and details are sacrificed to create this violent, misogynistic, incestuous world. But on the whole, the adaptation works.

Obviously they are vastly different productions. Do they work too?

THE PRINCESS AND THE HANDMAIDEN has real charm because the cast is first rate. As the Princess, Regan Thiel is kind, wide-eyed, sings beautifully and brings out the beating hear of the Princess.

As the Handmaiden, Tracy Michailidis is edgy, brash, pushy, and ultimately reformed. Allen MacInnis directs with a fine sense of humour and compassion.

It looks like a fair tale land with lots of visual jokes — there’s a flock of sheep that sing… the production does really well.

As for HAMLET, director/designer Graham McLaren sets out to show us that violent world and he has achieved it. There is nothing polite about it. When Hamlet and Laertes have their fight at the end, it’s not with swords as per usual — it’s with knives.

The way it’s staged it looks like two aggressive gladiators fighting to the death. Again, the cast is first rate with Gord Rand playing Hamlet like a moody, prowling, panther.

It sounds like a recommendation for both.

Yes but with conditions. THE PRINCESS AND THE HANDMAIDEN is recommended in the program for kids 5-16. Not on your life do you take a 5 year old to this. The lyrics are too complicated for anybody under 13 to 16. Sorry, but I don’t think a kid knows what ‘Ennui,’ ‘estranged’ or ‘morose’ means.

I saw this with an audience of 8 year olds and they were fidgetting… too complex and complicated. PERFECT for Teenagers and their parents.

As for HAMLET, this is not for those who like their Shakespeare traditional. This is for people who are up for their theatre being rough, challenging, and in your face.

They won’t be disappointed.

THE PRINCESS AND THE HANDMAIDEN plays at the Lorraine Kimsa Theatre for Young People until Dec. 30.

HAMLET plays at the Enwave Theatre at Harbourfront until Nov. 29.