Hamlet Review at Southern California Shakespeare Festival

Robert Shields as Hamlet

Shakespeare plays are one of those things where you can either modernize it perfectly, or it fails miserably. Reason being is that there are so many undertones to the text that have to do with old Renaissance traditions that the only way to modernize the play is by visually changing aspects to show the audience what, in fact, the actors are talking about. For example, In the 1998 Romeo & Juliet movie with Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes they referred to their guns as “swords”, but it wouldn’t have made sense if they didn’t engrave the word “sword” on the side of the gun.

The Southern California Shakespeare Company have risen to the challenge to take on Hamlet and modernize it. I was, actually, pleasantly surprised. I’m always wary about College productions because I never know if it’s going to be a kichy bra-ha-ha or a legitimate production. However, Cal State Poly in Pamona has used a fair balance between good-looking, well-versed student actors and legitimate professionals.

The modern “theme” to this version of Hamlet is Hamlet, played by Robert Shields, comes home from college and is in disarray to find his father’s ghost. The play takes on the idea that modern youth is going through the same socio-typical scenarios as 200 years prior when Shakespeare first wrote the play. In essence, it’s quite clever. The whole mission with Hamlet is how youth can be overzealous and tragic if their rage isn’t harnessed.

The play is center to the audience, so that the theatre-going experience is more prevalent to the viewers from all angles. The only problem I have with this is that the actors, sometimes, have to round about in circles and circles to make sure that their entire monologue is heard from all sides. It gets a bit dizzying to watch. Nevertheless, if they’re gonna’ change up Hamlet, might as well go all-out.

Robert Shields plays an excellent Hamlet; a fantastic energy and voice that resonated throughout the play. His boisterous personality gave Hamlet that quirky appeal that many actors can’t do (or refuse to do). The truth is, Hamlet is supposed to be a human experience. Shakespeare wrote Hamlet to show people that no matter the status, the thrill of life and the fear of death still resonates in each of our minds. What I loved best about Shields is that he seemed to really understand what he was saying. There have been numerous occasions where, in a Shakespeare play, the actors are just saying the lines because they have no clue what Shakespeare was trying to say. Shields took the ball and ran, and even if he didn’t, he ran a home-run anyways.

Southern California Shakespeare Festival:


September Saturdays the 11th, 18th, 25th and Oct. 2 at 8 PM

September Sundays the 12th, 19th, 26th and Oct 3rd at 2 PM

Friday Sept 24th at 8 PM

Cal State Poly Pamona; 3801 W Temple,, Pomona, CA 91768

Tickets: $15 Gen Admission; $12 Students and Seniors


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