When Prince Harry dressed up as a Nazi for his ill-fated costume party, most of the world was shocked. But Aquila Theatre Company associate artistic director Robert Richmond saw parallels to the Melancholy Dane. "We’re all looking at Harry and saying, ‘That’s mad, that’s crazy behavior,’ but that’s Hamlet when he goes to Ophelia’s closet unbraced — doing ungentlemanly behavior." In Aquila’s Hamlet, which arrives at the Cutler Majestic Theatre next Thursday, Hamlet wears a University of Wittenberg T-shirt. "The idea was to make him a university student who’s going someplace outside his home town, but we didn’t want to make it so modern it becomes a domestic play."
According to Richmond, who directs the production, there’s pomp and circumstance in the form of "crowns and armor and the things you expect with the opening of the House of Parliament and the queen’s birthday." But there’s a balance among that, the domestic aspects, and "the relationship between mother and son and son and stepfather."
Founded in 1991, Aquila maintains a repertory of works it performs in New York and London and is dedicated to "revitalizing" the classics. The company has dueling missions: presenting professional-grade entertainment that’s also suitable for touring to educational institutions in what amounts to the provinces. "It’s not just historical drama — something that’s good for you," Richmond insists. "We’re trying to make it seem like something they can relate to."
This year, the troupe has taken Hamlet all over the United States. "We actually came to all the hurricane spots after the hurricane went through." And though one community had lost its theater, Richmond explains that "they made alternative arrangements and we did a big open-air gig on a stage, almost a rock-and-roll stage."
Creative costumes, staging, and lighting are Aquila hallmarks. A few seasons back, the company produced A Midsummer Night’s Dream done in Impressionist-era costumes, right down to painted black umbrellas that doubled as trees and bushes in the Athenian wood. "We always try to find a world that will fit the play, rather than force the play into a world."
Once a production is up, it’s added to the repertory. Then smaller, satellite Aquila troupes can tour the show for educational or training purposes. "This is slightly counter to how other companies think. They tend to put their shows to sleep and never do them again. We’re more like a dance company, where you keep works in repertory."
And reaching a wide audience, especially students, is essential. "I think you can learn a lot more by watching a play than by reading it. Reading it on your bed the night before you have to do it in class, it kind of dies a little bit."
HAMLET | Aquila Theatre Company | Cutler Majestic Theatre, 219 Tremont St, Boston | January 19-21 | $35-$53 | 800.233.3123 or www.maj.org
Issue Date: January 13 - 19, 2006
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