Theatre with children and animals is always a tricky one. In this case, the animal was a teddy bear and the child was thoroughly blessed with comic timing. Handy for a young Hamlet, unaware of his troubles and blessed with the innocence of youth.
Teatro Sotterraneo came to BE Festival and blew audiences out of the water last year, which is why they have returned after a residency at Warwick Arts Centre to do it again. This time it’s with their short histories of important figures, presenting, in live mockumentary format, young Hamlet, overprotected, smothered and fond of his collection of dead things.
We, as an audience, are invited to watch, understand and empathise with the distraught youth, whose formative years – hilariously envisioned here – obviously contribute to the story of downfall which Shakespeare took up his quill to write. Very often we watch a play and do not consider the world which happened before, what brought its characters to this point and why they do what they do. Here, we are presented with one of the options, cleverly introducing the palace life and allowing the audience to envision the character as a fully-fledged human being, rather than simply frozen until it is time to perform.
This is the beauty of Teatro Sotterrano’s performance; it is a subversion of what we assume to be true and an exposition on differing opinions. One might not agree with how they represent the youth of a fictional character, but similarly, one may respect how they conduct this idea, making it fun, entertaining and accessible, using some of the most famous passages from the play to strengthen the character and ground young Hamlet in what has come before.
Played out on a stage with just a Wendy house for Hamlet to hide his collection of dead things in, its simplicity and excellence is in its creativity. There is music (Radiohead’s ‘Creep’, and Jay-Z’s ‘Hard Knock Life’) to illustrate that character that Hamlet is and will be, and the echoes of the future are darkly comic when given to a ten-year-old to play with. A top quality piece, it’s easy to see why Teatro Sotterrano was invited back to BE Festival this year, it’s certainly something special.
The BE Festival ran in Birmingham from the 2-6 July 2013. It will return next year. For further information, please visit the BE Festival website.