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(Posted 7:30 a.m., March 2)

St. Peter Players continue to set the gold standard with latest production of 'Hamlet'
By Fred Sherwin
Orléans Online

Shane Houlston plays the lead role in the St. Peter Players production of 'Hamlet' . Fred Sherwin/Photo

The St. Peter Player's have become well known over the past few years for delivering a series of impressive musicals including "West Side Story" in 2003 and "Les Miserables" in 2004.

Last year they put on a stunning performance of Gilbert & Sullivan's famous Broadway production "Pirates of Penzance". The problem with staging musicals, however, is that you end up having to omit talented actors who may not be blessed with the most talented voices.

This year the St. Peter Players guiding force, drama teacher Bernie Leger, decided to go in a different direction by producing a musical non-musical of sorts to give students who can't sing a chance to share the limelight.

The result is a fresh take on Shakespeare's classic "Hamlet", complete with a live soundtrack that includes several pieces sung off stage by Keena Eloise and the incomparable Katrina Watters, accompanied on piano by Emilie Gauthier who also provided most of the sound effects.

One of the challenges in putting on "Hamlet", or almost any other play written by Shakespeare, is that most of the audience already knows the ending as well as most of the lines, having had the play drummed into their heads during English literature class back in high school.

The trick is in the acting and how the lines are delivered. Shakespeare is all about the drama, and the St. Peter Player's production of "Hamlet" delivers drama in spades.

Jason Lajoie is superb as King Claudius, as is Alicia Bacile in the role of Ophelia, but the strongest performance of the night was delivered by Shane Houlston in the lead role of Hamlet. One of the neat things for me, having gone to successive St. Peter Player productions over the years, is the ability to witness firsthand the develop.m.ent of the student players into accomplished actors from year to year.

King Claudius, played by Jason Lajoie, asks Rozencrantz and Guildenstern, played by Sarah Doyle and Sarah MacDonald, to keep an eye on Hamlet. Fred Sherwin/Photo

After watching Wednesday night's performance, I went back to see what I had written about Houlston in my review of "Pirates of Penzance" in which he played the Sergeant. As it turned out, I failed to even mention his name which tells me that his performance didn't particularly stand out. Not so in this year's play. Hamlet is a wonderful production and Houlston is the star.

But then again, that's the beauty of the St. Peter Players productions. Bacile played Police Officer #5 in "Pirates" last year. In "Hamlet" she's brilliant as Ophelia. Lajoie auditioned for the last two St. Peter Players productions without success before finally landing the role of King Claudius in this year's play. Thank goodness for perseverance.

Getting back to the play, Greg Lowe provided a modem of comic relief as Ophelia's father Polonius. Although I found his performance on opening night even more over the top than is normally called for in the role, he did an admirable job. My only criticism, and it's a minor one, is that he didn't try to engage the audience more with his sly asides.

Of the supporting roles, my favourite by far was the performance of Sarah MacDonald as Guildenstern. The casting of Guildenstern and Rozencrantz, played by Sarah Doyle, as two woman rather than two men was sheer brilliance.

Even though I was sitting near the back of the room, I could easily make out MacDonald's hilarious facial expressions and body language, especially when the two women were flirting with several of the male leads at different points in the play.

Other performances of note were turned in by St. Peter Players veteran Mike Molinski who played Ophelia's brother Laertes; Elyse Gagne as Hamlet's mother Queen Gertrude; and Ben Robinson as Horatio.

Ironically one of the highlights of the St. Peter Players first non-musical play was the singing of Katrina Watters, who played the lead role of Mabel in last year's production of "Pirates", and her duet partner Keena Eloise. The two young women shared the vocal duties in relative anonymity and they were nothing short of brilliant. Watters' operatic style was especially well suited to the song choices. Accompanying them both on piano was Emilie Gauthier who set the tone throughout the play with her timely sound effects.

The supporting cast included Lydia Barrett, Danny Bettencourt, Erin Ciona, Mary Doyle, Alex Dupuis, Amber Forgie, Christina Franc, Sean Goetz, Jessyca Lalumiere, Nicole Perera, Bryan Ladds, Robert Guenette and Ryan Buffone as the Ghost of Hamlet's father.

Supporting the 25-member cast were co-producers Carla Boyle and Kathy Clark; stage manager Amanda Ross; lighting technician William Knutson; creative consultants Melody Lavictoire and Wade Muir; sound technician Tony Mungham; set decorator Rachel Struthers; teacher supervisors Shannon Capstick and Scott Searle; stage hands Clare Knutson and Sean Payton-Stewart; and prop co-ordinators Mya Madere and Athena Tzivanopoulus.

In the world of high school drama productions, the St. Peter Players are the gold standard with their attention to detail, terrific sound, and beautiful costumes which this year were rented from the Stratford Festival.

Kudos to the cast and crew of "Hamlet" for putting on yet another highly entertaining production. The play continues today and tomorrow with three more performances including a special matinee performance on Saturday at 2 p.m. Curtain time for the evening performances is 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $10 each available at the door.

Haratio, played by Ben Robinson, holds a dying Hamlet in his arms in the final scene of the St. Peter Players production of 'Hamlet' on today and tomorrow at St. Peter High School. Fred Sherwin/Photo

(This story was made possible thanks to the generous support of our local business partners.)


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