Here in Williamsburg, we’re halfway through this summer’s Virginia Shakespeare Festival. In honor of the stage in general and the Bard in particular, try this Canadian comedy series for a midsummer night’s entertainment.
The fictional New Burbage Shakespeare Festival is two weeks away from curtains-up on Hamlet when its artistic director, Oliver Welles, unexpectedly bites the dust (leaving instructions that his skull be used onstage in all future performances of the play). His last minute replacement is the extremely reluctant Geoffrey Tennant (Paul Gross), who played a brilliant Hamlet himself seven years ago—at least, for three performances. Halfway through the fourth, Tennant had a nervous breakdown, leapt into Ophelia’s onstage grave, and went “screaming out into the night, mad as a hatter.”
Now he’s back, forced to face unresolved issues with actress Ellen Fanshawe, formerly the Ophelia to his Hamlet and now his leading lady. Moreover, this production’s Hamlet is an American movie star best known for his work in films with lots of explosions; the board of directors is being subverted by a perky, scheming businesswoman with her own vision of a commercially-successful “Shakespeareville;” and Tennant is being haunted by the recently-deceased Oliver, whose sarcastic commentary only he can hear.
These six episodes feature a great ensemble cast; fast, funny dialogue with plenty of theatre jokes; and, much like Shakespeare, a mix of pathos and farce. Paul Gross is fantastic as the charmingly eccentric Tennant trying to pull together the Play That Drove Him Mad.
Check the WRL catalog for Slings and Arrows.