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Tag Archive | "Hamlet"

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Review: Hamlet, Les Gémeaux, Paris

Posted on 10 March 2014 by Billy Barrett

Hamlet

David Bobee’s Russian Hamlet is, among other things, a strong argument for age-appropriate casting. While in Britain we like our Princes of Denmark to be ‘accomplished’ actors (read ’30 and above’), this man in black is defiantly juvenile, careering round the stage with adolescent abandon in a pair of skinny jeans and a trendy haircut. It’s a choice that helps some of the play’s questions click into place: why does he procrastinate? Is he mad, or just pretending? Does he have to be so, you know, moody? Ah, yes – he’s a teenager. It might also answer a question more specific to this production: why does he wear a Batman costume?

Bobee says his staging has a ‘cinematographic aesthetic’. I’d go more with graphic novel. Aside from the superhero cape in one scene, the strong monochrome images, scraps of text onstage and stylised violence are pure Gotham City – emphasis on the ‘goth’. The set, also designed by Bobee, is Cheek by Jowl minimalism meets grisly sex dungeon; a sinisterly sanitised space of black tiles and metallic surfaces, wipe-clean in preparation for carnal, bloody and unnatural acts. When the dreadlocked gravedigger starts pulling out the bodies from drawers in the wall, we realise the whole rotten court is held in a morgue.

The production is full of surprises like this – scenes are occasionally divided by a plastic curtain, but Polonius is shot with a cap gun directly into the audience. Ophelia must always drown, but who floods the entire stage? This water remains until the end, rippling and crashing to create glorious images as the cast writhe and leap through it. The visceral force of the visuals is raised by an eclectic soundtrack from droning electro to Coldplay, and the stark aesthetic is occasionally thrown into relief by more traditional elements: a smattering of classical music and an Elizabethan costumed troupe of actors for the play-within-the-play.

There are some perplexing aspects – I never understood why Ophelia and Laertes occasionally speak English together, and the distancing trick of having each character announce themselves by carrying the letters of their name onstage doesn’t come off when we only get the surtitled translation at the end of the scene.

But this is bold stuff for a play that often feels the weight of its canonical seriousness, and in dispensing with subtlety Bobee loses very little of Hamlet‘s depth. The ‘To be or not to be’ soliloquy gains concrete urgency as the prince holds a knife to his throat, and his revulsion at the perceived incest of Gertrude and Claudius becomes fairly understandable when he’s practically forced to watch her give him a lap dance.

For such a theatrical, in some ways heavy-handed slant on Shakespeare, this has a real emotional core – a distressing poignancy that’s heightened by Hamlet’s youth amidst the carnage. In fact, as the cast lay themselves down to die after a slow-motion finale, it’s easy to forget we’ve missed out on all of Shakespeare’s language. Perhaps that’s this production’s great strength; the play’s still the thing, but without the pressure of speaking its well-worn lines the company’s free to dance around the text, dragging it down and lifting it up.

Hamlet played at Les Gémeaux in Paris. For more shows at Les Gémeaux see the website.

Billy Barrett

Billy Barrett

Billy currently studies English and Theatre at Warwick University. Between reviewing and reading for his course, Billy writes, directs and acts in theatre. He tries to see everything in London, Warwick and beyond!

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Review: Hamlet, New Diorama Theatre

Posted on 16 January 2014 by Hannah Elsy

Sitting in the audience with a large school group for a production of Hamlet is always a trying experience. However, artistic pretensions aside, their reactions to the show (vocal and organic) provide an interesting benchmark through which to measure whether a show is ‘good’ or not. The production of Hamlet by the award-winning theatre company The Faction at the New Diorama was certainly well received by the school group, who were engaged in the action throughout: as Simon Russell Beale’s voice as the ghost booms “swear!” through the speakers, a girl behind whispered to her friend “that’s well scary!”

The Faction’s Artistic Director Mark Leipacher has combined modern technology with traditional staging and has worked his cast hard as an ensemble in order to reimagine the classical text. Some elements of these efforts have really paid off to make a show that is visually stimulating, creative and fresh. The creation of a moving screen, made from orange circles held up by the ensemble in order to follow the projection of Simon Russell Beale as the ghost, is genuinely exciting. The sense that ‘Denmark’s a prison’ is created with a plain black wall covering the back of the stage, a third of this taken up by a Big Brother-style omnipresent projection of Claudius, and is matched by a ‘box’ of lighting on the stage defining the ensemble’s playing space.

It’s just a shame that these visuals are not matched with strong performances from all ensemble members. Damien Lynch’s Claudius, although holding great physical gravitas, cannot fully deal with articulation of the language, occasionally stumbling over his lines. Derval Mellett’s Ophelia is believably vulnerable but doesn’t quite know her lines, crucially messing up the word order of some key speeches (maybe such mishaps were thought to be excusable on a night mostly filled by a school group…!).

Jonny McPherson’s Hamlet is sardonic, grinning in his ‘antic disposition’ with a goon face to match Jim Carrey’s. He plays up to the character’s reputation as overly verbose and a procrastinator, standing oppressively in front of the audience in his long soliloquies makes you feel genuinely uncomfortable, particularly because his eyes – caffeinated and beady- scan right into the retinas of every member of the audience in the 80-seat theatre. He is not a likeable figure, but this is somewhat refreshing after a string of well-known actors playing Hamlet (David Tennant, Jude Law) who have woven into their performances hints of their personas as celebrities in order to win the allegiance of their audiences.

The school group found it very entertaining, as did I: not a bad introduction for them to Shakespeare from an exciting theatre company that promises to produce a bundle more of entertaining adaptations.

Hamlet is running at the New Diorama Theatre until 22 February. For more information and tickets, please visit the New Diorama website

Hannah Elsy

Hannah Elsy

Alongside reading English at King's College London, Hannah runs around the capital watching and performing in as much theatre as physically possible. She enjoys creating new work, and is currently workshopping new ideas with the National Theatre's Young Studio. Hannah has worked as an arts journalist for the Fierce Festival of live art and Bristol's In Between Time Festival.

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Review: The Trilogy, Chelsea Theatre

Posted on 08 January 2014 by Stanley Walton

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A beginning, a middle and an end are the three structural components of any story, or so we’re taught at an early age. Michael Pinchbeck’s triptych of work, The Trilogy, explores these markers of time through observations on the company’s collective experience of performance making and using various points from the work of Shakespeare as a stimulus. The pieces were not created chronologically: The End was the first piece created, the first I saw, The Beginning, was born from that, and The Middle was the final piece created. When experienced as self-contained narratives, they each have a distinct tone but when combined they feel as if they shouldn’t be apart.

The Beginning is billed perfectly as a “love letter” to theatre, but this is no overtly sentimental heartache teenage letter. A well-constructed heartfelt letter that endears rather than distances. The audience enters a space reminiscent of a rehearsal room during a tech run: there is a box marked on floor with white tape for the stage, Ollie Smith and Nicki Hobday sit outside on chairs in the “wings” and Michael Pinchbeck sits at at a desk where he acts as company manager, whose props desk is projected onto the back screen. The piece that unfolds is a crafted tale that weaves several narratives together: we get the stage directions of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the story behind Serge Gainsbourg’s Historie de Melody Nelson and how the ensemble’s first experience of performing came about. The through-line of the piece is a notion of discovery, intentions and love. There are parallels in all the narratives: the mechanicals in A Midsummer Night’s Dream are a group of amateurs performing because they love it, and Pinchbeck and co feel in love with performing through amateur dramatics. Melody Nelson falls in love with Serge Gainsbourg when she wakes up after he knocks her off her bike, just like Titania falls in love with Bottom as she awakes.

At the outset of the performance, both Hobday and Smith take a moment to tell us about their initial intentions when making the piece and welcome us into the auditorium. Hobday delivers her thoughts on her intentions when making the show calmly whereas Smith reads, sometimes aggressively, from a script “I’m a fucking professional and I’m here to get the fucking job done”. This section in which we are told Hobday and Smith’s intentions and the audience is invited to acknowledge each other, reassures the audience that it’s ok not to know where something is going. Throughout the piece we are treated to several references to the world of theatre making: Pinchbeck giving the company countdowns till they have to be on stage, and references to health and safety and, most prevalently, the process. Self-referential theatre can become trying and irritating but as these references are few and far between, and then woven so neatly within the various story lines, they comfort and draw the audience in.

It is a joy to watch the ensemble present all the various strands of story and weave them so seamlessly together. Hobday, Smith and Pinchbeck aren’t characters but heightened versions of themselves, they share snippets of their past and address the audience directly. The piece is a shared experience between the audience and performers, which reignites the joy and excitement of discovery within us all, whether this be in love or just the beginnings of something new.

During the interval, a time usually reserved for a drink and discussion, a man with silver grey hair is wrapped in bubble wrap and reads Hamlet. This is Pinchbeck’s The Middle, a touching 20 minute piece performed by his father. There is a small desk at which Pinchbeck senior sits. He is reading from a piece of paper that Pinchbeck junior wrote a long time ago, sitting on his stairs at home. It contemplates becoming a father and middle age. Also mentioned are the interval theatre rituals that so often take place: the drink from the bar, the decision whether to stay for the second half or not and, of course, the discussion of the first half. Pinchbeck senior then delivers a powerful version of Hamlet’s “to be or not to be” speech, which he first read out at school. Pinchbeck junior proceeds to cover his father in bubble wrap whilst Ronald Binge’s ‘Sailing by”’is played. The foyer is transformed into a dream like world, a transient space between present, past and future, the Pinchbecks wavering between fatherhood and grand fatherhood, the audience held in the middle with them. Succinct and touching.

The final piece in the trilogy is The End, in which Pinchbeck says it will be his last performance ever, as he trains his protege, Ollie Smith. “Exit pursued by a bear” from Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale is the stage direction that spawned The End; Pinchbeck and Smith explore: the lead up to the bear’s entrance and exit, the end of a show, the end of a tour and the end of Pinchbeck’s career. The piece begins with Smith lying on the floor and Pinchbeck circling him whilst repeatedly saying “dot” and punctuating each “dot” by throwing a cue card on the floor. These cue cards contain the text of the show, and initially allow Pinchbeck to control Smith but the text eventually ends up restricting Pinchbeck, as Smith gains the upper hand. Throughout the piece, Pinchbeck, or his stage persona, is attempting to make this “a beautiful burst of song”. Smith serves to deflate any sentimental or romanticised notions that Pinchbeck presents through pithy interruptions. Smith corrects Pinchbeck on several occasions bringing him down to earth:

Pinchbeck: We’ve been through a lot, you and I
Smith: Actually we haven’t
Pinchbeck: Stop interrupting

An interesting dynamic which becomes apparent when The End is seen as part of The Trilogy is the conceit of it being Smith’s “first” performance. As the audience has already witnessed Pinchbeck and Smith before earlier in the evening, it becomes the conceit of a man trying to cling on. Smith is wonderfully weary as Pinchbeck tries to amplify everything to poetry, the two effortlessly draw us into this empty echoing world and tie a neat bow around the trilogy.

The Trilogy has something for everyone; it’s about the adventure of life and discovery, love, how an artist grows and matures, or doesn’t. It’s a meditation on the passage of time but perhaps more aptly that all the world’s a stage, which should be embraced.

The Trilogy played at Chelsea Theatre. The shows are currently touring. Visit Michael Pinchbeck’s website for more details.

Stanley Walton

Stanley Walton is a young director and producer who runs a theatre company called Irresponsible Decorators. He can be found at @brownhairedboy, and his theatre company can be found at @I_Decorators or www.irresponsibledecorators.co.uk

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Blog: The National Theatre Archives

Posted on 02 October 2013 by Stanley Walton

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If you have some form of interest in theatre, whether you’re actively involved in making it or a spectator, then it is likely you’ve often wished to see a past production you missed for some reason. Now imagine for a moment there were a place one could visit where they have recordings of past National Theatre productions, their respective programmes, production notes and the entire prompt script for productions spanning decades. What if this place were open to anyone by appointment? It exists. It’s the National Theatre Archive.

Located next door to the Old Vic theatre by Waterloo station in London sits the National Theatre Studio, a building which houses a tiny archive, a veritable mine of past production knowledge. You arrange your appointment by way of a form on their website. All you need supply is your area of interest and which productions you’d like to have a look at. You’ll be given a choice of times which you then confirm. When you arrive you tell reception you’re there to visit the archive, you sign in and get taken to the second floor. The room you are shown to is an L shape. There are large iMacs on several desks in a row alongside the window and a huge table. You’re then shown which desk you will be using; it will have large grey cardboard folders for each production you’ve asked to look at that contain all manner of notes. You’re then left to watch, if possible, the production on the computer and make whatever notes you require. Of course you’re not allowed to take any photographs and photocopying has to be done on site, costing 20p per page.

When I last visited I spent a day there. Arriving early in the morning I started my day by looking at Danny Boyle’s 2011 production of Frankenstein. There were three large folders of production notes, set designs and even director’s notes leading up to the opening night. The amount of detail preserved is fantastic, from costume measurements to how they managed who would play who if certain cast members were ill. I was then able to watch both versions of the production, the lead actors playing Dr. Frankenstein and the creature in tandem, making it easy to take notes on the differences and similarities. Being able to mark the subtleties in their performances was of particular interest to me both as an actor and director, and would have been extremely difficult without the archive.

I then spent the rest of the day watching portions of Nicholas Hytner’s Hamlet, Deborah Warner’s Mother Courage and her Children and Katie Mitchell’s …some trace of her. The information included with …some trace of her was amazing: storyboards, screen shots and the original text. Of course productions that had a NT Live! screening have better quality recordings, though the 2009 recording of Mother Courage was from a camera at the back of the auditorium, and everything could be seen and heard perfectly well. Also available are recordings of most NT Platform events.  A space where you can immerse yourself in a past production to absorb additional knowledge is invaluable to any theatre practitioner and I urge you to go.

Photo by Flickr user Dimitry B under a Creative Commons licence.

 

Stanley Walton

Stanley Walton is a young director and producer who runs a theatre company called Irresponsible Decorators. He can be found at @brownhairedboy, and his theatre company can be found at @I_Decorators or www.irresponsibledecorators.co.uk

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