Cheer Up, Hamlet

August 20th, 2006

Hurrah for Netflix! Without it, I’m not sure we would have ever been able to rent “Slings & Arrows,” the obscure but extremely well-reviewed Canadian TV show about a contemporary Shakespeare theater.

For years, the fictional New Burbage Shakespeare Festival has been giving audiences slick, expensive, comfortable productions of the Bard’s plays, and then encouraging them to buy little stuffed Shakespeare dolls at the theater’s gift shop. The Festival’s Artistic Director, Oliver Welles, was once a genius, but is now so jaded that he no longer cares about producing original theater.

Oliver, it turns out, also dies within the first episode, hit by a truck carrying “Canada’s Finest Hams.” This macabre hilarity pervades all six hour-long episodes of the first season. Oliver also returns as a ghost to plague/comfort his former protege, Geoffrey Tenant, who is called on to replace him as the Festival’s Artistic Director, despite his reputation as a madman.

Geoffrey, you see, went mad on stage years ago while playing Hamlet (in a New Burbage production directed by Oliver when he was still an artiste). Now, the fact that he sees a ghost no one else sees doesn’t help to promote a reputation of sanity. What’s more, Geoffrey is opposed to everything the current New Burbage theater stands for: corporate success above artistic integrity. He’s bound to make waves, and he does, most notably when he challenges Hamlet’s new director to a sword duel.

“Slings & Arrows,” like Stage Beauty, is primarily an ode to the art of theater. When Geoffrey delivers instructions to actors, instructions that make the actors suddenly understand their characters, you want to stand up and cheer. But it’s the simultaneously reverent and irreverent playfulness with Shakespeare’s most famous play that really keeps things moving.

Most importantly, the show also features what may be the best theme-song lyrics ever, in the opener “Cheer Up, Hamlet,” sung by two old codgers who kind of function as New Burbage’s Statler and Waldorf. Here, for your delight, are the full lyrics:

Cheer up, Hamlet
Chin up, Hamlet
Buck up, you melancholy Dane
So your uncle is at hand
Murdered Dad and married Mum
That’s really no excuse to be as glum as you’ve become
So wise up, Hamlet
Rise up, Hamlet
Buck up and sing the new refrain
Your incessant monologizing fills the castle with ennui
Your antic disposition is embarrassing to see
And by the way, you sulky brat, the answer is “TO BE”!
You’re driving poor Ophelia insane
So shut up, you rogue and peasant
Grow up, it’s most unpleasant
Cheer up, you melancholy Dane

Any song that tells Hamlet to “shut up” and “grow up” is fine by me! (No offense to the play, which I do love.)

Alas, this will be my last Ottery entry for a couple of weeks. “K” and I are leaving tomorrow for Istanbul. Yes, Istanbul (or Constantinople, which may be more appropriate in this case, as K is a Byzantinist). We’ll spend a week there and a week in Egypt, mostly at Mt. Sinai. I’m incredibly excited about the travel opportunity and thrilled about my traveling companion, though I will find it very difficult to be without my Porpoise and my Cherub for two weeks. No doubt I will have much Ottery material when I return!

Entry Filed under: Movies, Uncategorized

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. icelimbo  |  August 23rd, 2006 at 4:34 pm

    Sounds interesting – I will check it out if it runs across my path. But what I really wanted to mention is that Mark McKinney, from “The Kids in the Hall,” who is 1/3 of the writing team for your Hamlet show, is also part of the writing team for Aaron Sorkin’s “Studio 60″…

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