Shakespeare and I have had good times and bad.
Some of the best performances I’ve seen were at the National Theatre in London and, comically, some of the worst in Stratford-upon-Avon—Shakespeare’s hometown.
The idea of a solo Hamlet production made me nervous– it’s hard to believe one guy could perform 17 characters in the two hour play without droning the senses out of a bored audience. When Raoul Bhaneja stepped onto a sparse stage wearing all black, I knew my low expectations were about to be exceeded.
Bhaneja stood centre stage. A creepy rasping noise resonated from his throat and chest through the theatre.
He kept it up long enough for the audience to establish he was playing the ghost of Hamlet’s father, and swiftly became the next character. Bhaneja had a different accent, inflection, posture and personality for each of the 17 characters in Hamlet.
These characters included meek servants, manipulative old men, dainty women, comical rogues and of course the mad and grief-stricken Hamlet.
He portrayed his understanding of each character to the audience. While transforming characters, Bhaneja gave the appropriate pause and had different body language and postures for each one.
The bare set and Bhaneja’s black outfit highlighted his face and hands. The black on black allowed him to melt into the back of the stage for a few seconds so he could change scenes or show one of the characters leaving the room.
Bhaneja’s captivating performance allowed the audience to forget it was a one-man-show.