The reviews are in for Jungle Theater’s Hamlet

Shakespeare’s Hamlet is a timeless play, made evident by how often the classic is staged even now, four centuries after it was written.

The Jungle Theater’s production of Hamlet brings the tale solidly into the modern era, infusing the story with such technology as smartphones and ipads.

This mix of new and old worked well for some critics, but distracted others. Read on for excerpts of their reviews.


Hamlet at the Jungle Theater

Photo by Michal Daniel

From Ed Huyck at City Pages:

Boehlke’s idea of layering a modern veneer on the story certainly isn’t unique (the National Theatre went down a similar path with its latest production). However, it works quite well, especially as he has added enough ancient weight (think back to those massive columns) to keep the original tale front and center, and isn’t afraid to just head back to the story when needed. The opening, which used security cameras to show us the ghost of Hamlet’s father, was stunning and gave the production the energy to keep moving, even when the plot (Shakespeare had a lot of story on his plate here, along with all the self-doubt, murder, and near incest) threatened to drag the proceedings down.

From Graydon Royce at the Star Tribune:

Boehlke’s conceit never works better than when Ophelia, lamenting her father’s death, hijacks a singer’s microphone and addresses a gala crowd. TV screens grab closeups of her face, magnifying the chaos of her madness.

In other manifestations, though, modernity threatens to upstage critical moments — such as the ancillary drama in an airport bar where Polonius counsels Ophelia about Hamlet. Is there genius in creating a distraction that forces one to concentrate on primary action? Perhaps, but the gambit risks being nothing more than a diversion.

Writ large, that very question hangs over the entirety of Boehlke’s virtuosic staging. Does the play itself find room within this remarkable vessel?


Hamlet at the Jungle Theater

Photo by Michal Daniel

From Rob Hubbard at the Pioneer Press:

Shakespeare’s longest play asks a lot of a cast and crew, and this group seems keenly attuned to director/designer Bain Boehlke’s vision. It often has the feel of a Hollywood political thriller, complete with conniving power brokers, action framed through video screens and gratuitous NRA-friendly product placement.

Amid this frazzling flurry of activity is the performance of Hugh Kennedy in the title role. His is something of a slacker prince, only occasionally exhibiting the sullen gravitas associated with the role, instead opting for a sing-song delivery that purists might find unnervingly flippant. But, at 25, Kennedy is convincingly youthful for this college-aged royal, coming off as a biting jokester with a casual air and an unpredictable temper. It’s a very interesting performance.

From John Olive at

This makes for some striking effects. For example, the ghost of Hamlet’s father is first seen on a security camera, as he stalks the drab concrete corridors of a modern government building. Hamlet rushes to meet him on the 12th floor, and the ghost takes him down to the sub-sub-basement for their gruesome and galvanizing scene. I have never seen this sequence done this way and it was revelatory.

But this came at a price, for it requires a lengthy set change, mid-scene: the set-shifters came out in half light to strike the elevator, move the massive columns around, creating the basement. Then the scene began again – with much of the energy gone. Indeed, my greatest criticism of this otherwise worthy production is that there are too many endless scenery shifts. It gives the show a herky-jerky rhythm and a start-over energy that, imo, interferes with the flow of the rich story.


Hamlet at the Jungle Theater

Photo by Michal Daniel

From Matthew Everett at TC Daily Planet

Jungle Theater artistic director Bain Boehlke once more, as he so often does (and often successfully), served as both director and set designer on this production. Here, however, it feels like the tail is wagging the dog. The production feels as if it has been conceived and designed, but not directed. This is a hyper-modern, high tech, multimedia Hamlet. Thanks to this production, I know that Queen Gertrude has an iPad, Polonius uses Skype, Ophelia likes gin and tonics, Claudius is obsessed with his cell phone, Laertes will attempt to hold conversations and work on his laptop computer at the same time, Hamlet has a blog or a Twitter account, and, honestly, I don’t care.

Why would you choose a play this good and assemble a cast this gifted (Kennedy, Bradley Greenwald as Claudius, Michelle Barber as Gertrude, the almost relentlessly entertaining Gary Briggle as Polonius, Paul Rutledge as Horatio, just for starters) and then constantly get in their way? The sets are lovely, but the scene shifts and the never-ending stage business are devouring the story. (Claudius will be right with you, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, but first he needs to load up at the breakfast buffet.) Numerous scenes are crammed with extras who mumble or audibly carry on conversations that are warring with the actual dialogue of the lead characters. You know, the ones with the lines Shakespeare wrote, the story we came to the theater to hear. The technology is clever and shiny but completely unnecessary. We’re listening to Hamlet, the words do the heavy lifting, we get what he’s driving at in the soliloquy. He doesn’t need a PowerPoint presentation behind him on a large screen.

From Ellen Burkhardt at Minnesota Monthly:

Boehlke makes the most of the Jungle’s relatively tiny stage by cleverly rearranging pillars, adding and subtracting furniture, and drawing on the impressive technical skills of lighting designer Barry Browning to depict mood, time of day, and emotional cues. Additionally, the location and time of each scene are clearly described on a projection screen, and whenever possible, digital images are broadcast on stage to emphasize the topic at hand. These added visuals help lend transparency to the play, thereby deepening the bond between the audience and Hamlet.

Whether or not Kennedy’s Hamlet and Boehlke’s interpretation of the woeful tale are what Shakespeare imagined some 400 years ago is up for debate. What is certain is that the Jungle has taken a classic production, added a twist, and concocted a show that’s altogether powerful, memorable, and dynamic–and that’s something even Shakespeare would approve of.

Hamlet runs through October 9 at the Jungle Theater in Minneapolis. Have you seen the show? Let us know what you thought in the comments section.

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