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San Francisco Fringe 2019

The Readiness Is All: A Solo Hamlet

Laurel Scotland-Stewart (San Francisco CA)

Genre: Solo Performance

Venue: Exit Theatre


Low Down

“Shakespeare’s tragedy becomes an extended soliloquy where Hamlet speaks to invisible characters and forces around him. The show explores Hamlet’s internal journey from shock and dislocation through madness to a final confrontation with himself.”


Hamlet’s soliloquies are fascinating and in this play, adapted from Shakespeare’s Hamlet and performed by Laurel Scotland-Stewart, Hamlet’s lines of dialogue are combined with the soliloquies to make a one hour monologue. At first this sounds daunting, yet once Scotland-Stewart appears it is clear that this is a very effective concept. Wearing all black, speaking as Hamlet, the characters he meets are no longer needed in this version of the play, because Hamlet’s dialogue refers to their name and what is happening, in Shakespeare’s own words, this is super efficient Shakespeare!

For example, Horatio, Hamlet’s old friend is called upon and the meaning of their discourse is clear through Hamlet’s reactions and comments. All events of Shakespeare’s play are included in this compact Hamlet and soon we are at the part with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, who are creatively played and sent off to England on a boat with a letter.

This solo performance works because of Scotland-Stewart’s commitment to the concept, the clever dramaturgy, her dynamic performance and how she owns it. With a serious visage from the start and her strong physicality and visceral gestures she is only one actor on the stage yet it feels like there are several. The space is used very creatively and the minimal set comprises a small red chair, two very small tables with accoutrements of disguise and secrecy. There is also the proverbial cloak and dagger for macabre activity.

Scotland-Stewart takes command of Shakespeare’s language with clarity and purpose. She has good timing, a full vocal range and one notices the rhyming couplets at the end of scenes to change location in Hamlet’s story, as intended and are especially helpful here. The “What a piece of work is man” speech stands out and is very effectively performed.

The bane of every actor playing Hamlet is the “To be or not to be” speech and how to perform it. Scotland-Stewart chose to perform it with simplicity, which is a solid choice, but given the rest of the play and her imaginative performance it seemed rather ordinary and there may be room to develop this more.

Hamlet’s scene with Ophelia is at first tender, then suspicious until his facial expression travels from sweet to bitter and he commands her to “get thee to a nunnery”. They jostle and Horatio arrives so Hamlet lighten up. Scotland-Stewart is adept at creative physicality, mime and involving imaginary characters in dialogue and action, that this writer saw vividly!

There is humor in this tragedy when Scotland-Stewart portrays the scene with the Players with one character wearing a fake moustache that has a mind of its own!

Hamlet starts to lose his mind with a range of angst when he decides to show a murder plot through the Players as an entertainment and Scotland-Stewart knows how to harness her emotional range here.

Using only a few objects Scotland-Stewart does a lot with very little.

Sounds effects of dragging chains from above suggest the space in a large castle, and a trumpet flourish adds to the time and place.

This is an inspired and engrossing performance of a long complex monologue, which is well sustained by Scotland-Stewart. This performer is all in and goes from strength to strength to the end!