Review: The Maltese Bodkin (Trinity College Dramatic Society)

The Trinity College Dramatic Society brought Shakespeare and Noir together on the Toronto stage

The George Ignatieff Theatre looks like any other campus building, until you walk through the front doors and see the beautiful stage. I was excited to attend the Trinity College Dramatic Society’s production of The Maltese Bodkin directed by Matthew Fonte. Yes, The Maltese Bodkin. That was not a typo.

The Maltese Bodkin written by David Belke is a culture-clash of William Shakespeare and The Maltese Falcon. The Maltese Bodkin takes from Shakespeare’s entire career as a playwright, taking influence from Macbeth, Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Othello, and more. The show is set in the style of Dashiell Hammett’s novel The Maltese Falcon. Most would know it better as the noir film starring Humphrey Bogart as detective Samuel Spade. The classic is known for being full of criminals, deceit, and iconic trench coats.

I was intrigued the moment I read the title. How could these two worlds be combined? The world of noir and Shakespeare? I thought this could be a match made in heaven, or it could be a strange mess. After seeing the play, I’m happy to say that the concept made perfect sense in the end.

The Shakespearean characters are taken from their respective cities, reconvening to London. London is also home to the American detective agency belonging to Birnam Wood and his partner. Wood, played by Ryan Falconer, finds out that his partner was murdered. He thinks that taking on the case that his partner worked before his untimely death will lead him to solve the mystery of who killed him and why.

Stand-out performances including the star of the show Ryan Falconer, who nailed the style of gritty detective. His best moments were his monologues center-stage. He stood against a spotlight, adjusting his coat and ranting about how everything was such a damn mess. While the Shakespearean characters veered in tone from dramatic to funny to dangerous, Falconer never veered from the tone of the character Wood. He anchored the show and kept it on theme. It was a noir play featuring Shakespeare characters, not a Shakespeare play featuring noir.

Other stand-outs included Crissy Voinov, who could reveal the underhandedness and volatile nature of Iago with a smug look. Shay Santaiti was a natural as Sir John Falstaff. He made such an impact on the show, even though his time on stage was shorter than most. Ola Okarmus played Richard, Ratcliffe, and Donalbain, and disappeared into each character. Finally, the leading lady Rachel Hart playing Viola De Messaline was perfect as the love interest, the determined sister, and the femme fatale. From the minute she walked on stage, Hart gave me the impression that she was not one to be underestimated.

The only issue I had with the show could be considered nitpicking. The production had a dialect coach James Hyett, and accents were used to reveal character backgrounds and play-origins. The accents were called on for multiple gags and reveals, which was incredibly entertaining. For instance, I loved seeing Birnam Wood draw attention to the abundance of Italians running around London. The accents were a great detail to the show, but there were inconsistencies that were distracting. Some Scottish characters had a heavy brogue, and others had no accent whatsoever. The Italian character Iago had a thick accent, while Mercutio of Verona had none. Placing importance for accents on select characters and not others was a little confusing.

The Maltese Bodkin was a genuinely fun experience. It was exciting to watch a hard-boiled detective on stage, while feeling like a detective in my seat. I was wracking my brain for every Shakespeare reference I could think of in order to keep up with Wood and solve the mystery. Any time a new character walked on stage or a new clue was presented, I thought: Who are they? Are they from Macbeth? Or am I thinking of Hamlet? What did they do in their play? Were they good, or were they evil? Unless you’ve read the script, there is no way you can ever catch-up, but I didn’t mind. All the answers were revealed in the final minutes, and it’s worth the build-up. A combination of two things that are very different but are beautiful together: root beer and ice cream, chocolate and peanut butter, Shakespeare and Hammett. Trust me, it works.


Photo of Lyla Besley, Jason Moore, Crissy Voinov, Mirka Loiselle, Shay Santaiti, Nawi Moreno-Valverde, Ryan Falconer, Ola Okarmus, Madalina Maxim, Rachel Hart, William Dao, Frederick Geitz, and Jocelyn Kraynyk by Pierre Kochel.