Naked Shakes’ “Hamlet” Brings New Energy and Passion to a Classic Play

Image by Kamran Yunus | Staff Illustrator

Alex Pigeon

UCSB’s Naked Shakes, a student-run Shakespearean theater company, has recently completed their run of “Hamlet, one of the most famous and iconic of all of William Shakespeare’s tragedies.

Naked Shakes strives to bring Shakespeare’s work into the modern day by letting his timeless words speak for themselves. Their performances are “naked” in that they use minimal props and costuming. Actors are able to transform a bare stage and a few tables into a battlefield or royal palace with their emphatic words and movements.

BFA acting student Tadja Enos brings a wonderful passion and dynamism to the stage as the play’s titular character. Her expressions of the pits of grief and the determination for revenge are believable and exciting. She is joined by other remarkable performers with a wide range of talent and experience, all fellow UCSB students.

The casting in this production was based more on the actors’ ability to display the heart and emotion of their characters, rather than superficial characteristics like gender or race. Iconic characters like Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, Polonius, and of course Hamlet himself are portrayed by talented female actors who seamlessly disappear into their roles.

While Naked Shakes is committed to being faithful to the text, director Irwin Appel takes creative liberties with regard to presentation. Many scenes are more evocative of the movies than the theater. For example, in Claudius’ first scene where he marries Hamlet’s mother, Gertrude, melodramatic music plays while actors move in slow motion.

Modern music is present throughout this entire production, in between scenes and even during some pivotal moments. Many of these songs were personal choices by the actors appearing in the play, and seemed to be an effort to bridge the gap between Elizabethan England and the modern day.

Sofia Quinones, a second-year creative-writing major, enjoyed the blending of old and new in the production. She said, “I thought it was interesting to see some modern elements involved and the way it was performed made the speech very easy to follow … Seeing it live and seeing it performed with such passion was awesome.”

One may assume that a production of Hamlet will be quite dry, but there are definitely moments of levity in this production. In addition to the comedic elements present in the original text, some slapstick humor is present in particular through the characters of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, who act as a comedy duo tripping over each other’s lines and banging their heads on tables.

Another interesting choice was the way the production brought the ghost of Hamlet’s dead father to life. Rather than having him portrayed by one actor, a group of actors spoke and moved together as they used sheets of printer paper to create the feeling of an omnipresent and powerful spirit. These sheets of paper appear throughout the production to signify Hamlet’s ultimate goal.

Hamlet, both the character and the play, have in many ways become synonymous with theater itself. It can be difficult to breathe life into lines that an audience has already heard dozens of times before, and committing oneself to an honest portrayal of these cultural touchstones can seem a daunting task.

The Naked Shakes cast was certainly up to the task, however, and delivered a performance that has all the passion and pain that Shakespeare intended. Both an honest delivery of the original intent behind the play and an interpretation for modern audiences, this production of “Hamlet was moving and passionate — a wonderful addition to UCSB’s list of accomplished plays.