Hamlet at Utah Shakespeare Festival

A new twist on the classic production


Karl Hugh - copyright Utah Shakespeare Festival 2019

Hamlet (Quinn Mattfeld) and Ophelia (Emma Geer) on set the of Hamlet at Utah Shakespeare Festival. (All photos by Karl Hugh. Copyright Utah Shakespeare Festival 2019.)

To be or not to be? This production of Hamlet at the Utah Shakespeare Festival in Cedar City definitely was. The classic play, running until October 12 in the Randall L. Jones Theater, is performed on a stunning set with gorgeous costumes and brilliant acting. If you have a chance to go to the festival before it closes, definitely checkout this amazing rendition of Shakespeare’s classic. 

The set of Hamlet featuring the whole cast in the opening scene of the play.

The first thing to notice when walking into the theater for this production is the beautiful set. With a grand staircase to the left and gold archways to the right, the stage juts out in a wide arch with steps all down the front, allowing the actors to enter and exit from the audience, adding a whole new level of realism to the production. Along with the set, the costuming gives the feeling of taking place in a Russian Revolution era. The cast also repeatedly uses revolvers throughout the show, reinforcing the idea that it is not set in the traditional Shakespearian time frame. However, the characters still refer to their location as Denmark because that’s what’s in the script, which can be slightly confusing since the military uniform like costuming and snowy set doesn’t reflect this in any way, but instead implicates an early 20th century Russian setting.

This barely takes away from the incredible acting though. Quinn Mattfeld produces an incredible performance as Hamlet, who has the most lines out of any Shakespeare character, with an amazing 1569 lines. Mattfeld manages to bring an ease to the character; it doesn’t feel like he is reciting lines, which can be hard to do when you have that many to remember. He also provides a level of humor to the role

Quinn Mattfeld as Hamlet pictured in one of the most iconic images from the show: holding a skull.

that is definitely a surprising yet welcome addition to this production. There are no changes to the script at all, so the laughs he brings are merely a result of some theatrically genius choices by Mattfeld and the director, Brian Vaughn. Of course, Hamlet is considered a tragedy so there are a lot of very serious moments as well, which were also amazingly executed by Mattfeld and the rest of the cast. 

One actress that should not go unnoted is Emma Geer, who plays Ophelia. When watching her performance, one can see how deeply the actress has dove into the character. She pulls out all of the inner turmoil of the young lady and really uses it to her advantage, creating some brilliant moments between her and the other characters, particularly Mattfeld’s Hamlet. Ophelia is also used to create several twists throughout this particular production, not usually seen in Hamlet. Those twists won’t be spoiled for you here if you do decide to see this wonderful performance, but know that they add a new level of depth to the characters’ motivation and story arcs, not just for Ophelia but also for Queen Gertrude, played by Jacqueline Antaramian, and Laetres, played by Christopher Peltier. 

Quinn Mattfeld as Hamlet in the snow, delivering one of his famous monologues to the audience.

Another thing to mention about this production of Hamlet is the special effects, which are very impressive. The stage opens up in two places, the first of which has a bucket of water inside. This is used on a few occasions. For example, at one point Hamlet washes his hands on stage in this water, which was unexpected but a very nice touch. The second place it opens is for the gravedigger’s scene, so the opening in the stage is big enough to fit a body laying down into. Also during the scene, as the gravediggers are “digging the hole”, they would bring their shovels up full of real dirt, which was another very small but impressive touch. These things just show you how much attention to detail and hard work this production team has put into the show. Another example of this is when Hamlet is performing one of his monologues and it looks like it is snowing around him (pictured right). The snow really looked almost real and seemed to melt off him as the next scene went on. Speaking of this, they do a pretty good job of making the scene changes obvious. The overall set never changes, but lighting effects and furniture pieces, as well as drapery for the Queen’s bedroom, really help make these apparent and distract from the fact that the background is still the main set. 

Quinn Mattfeld as Hamlet and Emma Geer as Ophelia both give incredible performances in this production.

One complaint that one could find within the realm of the special effects in this show is the lack of fake blood. This may seem like a rather odd and minuscule detail but there is a fair amount of stabbing in this show, which results in blood loss. Of course, it is understandable as to why they don’t use any fake blood. The cast has been performing this show since July and having to remove the fake blood stains from costumes and props every single night would get tiresome and also degrade the costumes. They could have gotten away with this except for one thing. When Polonius is stabbed through the curtain, there was no blood anywhere, not on the curtain or on his clothing. However, later, when Ophelia comes out carrying the same curtain, it has a large blood stain on it. If they would have kept the consistency of blood or no blood, it wouldn’t have been bothersome at all but the change was noticeable to someone paying close attention. 

The fact that this minuscule detail is the only complaint someone could find in this show truly speaks volumes about what a stunning and exquisitely executed production this is. The Utah Shakespeare Festival is known for its incredibly high quality productions and this play is no exception. It went above and beyond any expectations an audience member may have. From the surprising humor and the gorgeous costumes to the professional acting and fabulous set design, this production of Shakespeare’s classic Hamlet is definitely a must see.