Popular puppet troupe Shakey-Shake and Friends returns to the Fringe with the best-known of Shakespeare’s plays, Hamlet, in a delightful production that gives nods to the Bard’s tale as well as The Little Mermaid, Harry Potter, the Pan Am Games and selfies. Len (Simon Lee) would rather play computer games than go off to Stratford to see Hamlet, but his friends, led by Lucy (Shira Taylor), re-enact Shakespeare’s story for him – Len becomes Hamlet and the others take on the other characters – to convince him of the narrative’s power. The production, filled with energetic, funny comedy, throwaway lines and even a pie in the face, is the company’s most assured yet. Each figure is well-defined; Polonius, for instance, played by puppet Shakey-Shake (writer/actor Tom McGee), has a thing for curtains, while Gertrude, performed by Ann (Merritt Crews), lives in a world of comic denial about the guilt of Claudius (Jeff Dingle as Marlowe). Be sure to watch the expressive faces of live actors as well as the puppets. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, quoting the original play: this show is a hit, a palpable hit. Though it's part of FringeKids! and aimed at children, their parents and other adults will find the hour-long production just as entertaining.
Mooney on Theatre RATING: 4.5/5
Who in their right minds would try to turn Shakespeare’s Hamlet into a puppet show for kids? Shakey-Shake and Friends would, offering Hamlet…A Puppet Epic! at Toronto FringeKids! 2015. Your dad just died. Your mom married your uncle, who stole your crown. Your girlfriend went bonkers. And your best friends are trying to kill you. You thought being an 8-year-old was tough. Before you even step into the theatre, you know that the producers understand the challenge they’ve set for themselves. “We’re doing the whole thing (deaths and all), but in a light-hearted way,” reads a sign outside the theatre. “Everyone who dies gets a very silly ghost sheet and continue to comment on the action! (It’s not too scary.)” And as far as I’m concerned, they deliver on their promise. From the moment the lights come up to the second they finally drop, the puppeteers put everything they have into entertaining their audience. Whether it’s one of the characters, or the erstwhile hosts Shakes and Zip (pictured above), somebody always steps forward to help the kids understand what’s going on. And they do it without ever coming across as teacher-y, or at least, not for very long without a heavy dose of silliness hard on its heels. What does the “to be or not to be” speech mean? Why does Hamlet’s mom not clue in to what’s going on? It’s all explained, gently and sweetly, to the kids without ever being condescending. And nicely, the cast knows that their audience extends well beyond the 6- to 10-year-olds. Throughout the play, there are jokes for all ages and references from popular events and news items from last week, last year and last century. This appears to be a very good decision, because about 85% of the capacity premiere crowd was well beyond puberty. Having spent some time as a puppeteer, I didn’t think the puppetry technique was particularly solid, but I’m pretty sure I was the only one who cared. It didn’t seem to stop the wall-to-wall smiles and laughter that held the audience from start to finish. I thought all of the performances were quite strong, but the show was absolutely stolen—if laughter volume is any indication—by Shakes/Polonius. Even in death, this character managed laughs that literally stopped the show. Hamlet…A Puppet Epic! is easily the most entertaining hour I have spent in years.
The Way I See It Theatre Blog
There IS something awesome in the state of Denmark and that is Shakey Shake and Friends’ Hamlet… A Puppet Epic, which plays at the George Ignatieff Theatre through July 8th, 2015 as part of the Toronto Fringe Festival and Fringe Kids. This is Shakey Shake and Friends’ fifth anniversary of presenting hilarious and child-friendly puppet shows based on William Shakespeare’s plays.
We are first introduced to Len, the Sesame Street equivalent of Avenue Q’s Princeton and his girlfriend Lucy, the Sesame Street equivalent to Avenue Q’s Kate, who are supposed to be going to see Hamlet at the Stratford Festival, but Len gets sidetracked by wanting to play Super Mario, so Lucy decides the best way to prove to Len that Hamlet is even more awesome than video games is to give him the chance to play the part. They are joined by a Guy Smiley- type Christopher Marlowe, who plays the evil Claudius, Shakes himself plays Polonius, child-friendly Trekkie Monster types play Rosencrantz and Laertes and we are introduced to the brilliant Guildentrunk, who is a muppet made from a trunk.
Tom McGee’s adaptation remains true to the plot of Hamlet, and uses short snippets of Shakespeare’s most famous, and beloved, lines, but largely the story is told in contemporary language, for the benefit of a young audience’s comprehension. While the children delight in the physical antics of the puppets, a running gag regarding ghost sheets and mermaids and curtains, a pie pun, and silly songs, most of the jokes in McGee’s adaptation are aimed at adults, especially those with a close affiliation with Hamlet. It explores Gertrude’s refusal to confront the truth about her marriage, even when the truth is staring her straight in the face. It highlights the absurdity of Polonius’ need to meddle in his daughter’s love life. It turns Claudius into a Super Villain and pokes fun at Hamlet, who is “sad about stuff” and Ophelia, who is trying to be a feminist about things but still ends up at the bottom of the lake. The play is narrated, largely by a Scooter-type character named Zip, who plays the sweetest Horatio you will ever see, and it is through Zip’s eyes that the children are being taught how to see, understand and think about Shakespeare, while being thoroughly entertained, which is much more than can be said about most other attempts to introduce young people to these plays.
Whether you are five years old or a hundred and five years old, whether you consider yourself a Shakespeare connoisseur, a Muppet connoisseur or a Sesame Street connoisseur, as long as you’re not Sam Eagle, I think you will love this play.