As a director, Emily Louizou’s take on Hamletmachine is an interesting one. A stripped back, choral version of Heiner Muller’s experimental text is certainly not what I was expecting, but it worked…to an extent.
Hamletmachine presents a condensed Hamlet with twisted psychological and moral boundaries. As such, it demands a certain energy, a surrealism that permeates the characters and actors themselves. Whilst I feel they grasped this concept in the performance, it did not reach its highest potential.
There were moments of gorgeous clarity throughout the performance. Flame light flickers at one point, illuminating a Hamlet-duo, and it is perfect. The rave scene is also a favourite (although I feel it comes too late in the performance – I would have loved to have seen it at the beginning, Trainspotting-style). Not only this, but the space, an abandoned warehouse, was absolutely perfect for the show, and they use the space well.
However, I think something that gets old quickly is the use of the chorus, as they dominate most of the dialogue. Whilst effective at first, they exhaust its use throughout most of the performance. Moments are missed because the actors are focusing too hard on saying the words in unison, rather than how they were performed. For something as erratic as Hamletmachine, there is no vocal variation in the piece. This also plays out physically, as the choral dance routine was too simple for the complexities of Muller’s work.
Having said this, there were some strong performances. Susan Hoffman as Gertrude frequently walks among the crowd, a silent ghost. Funnily enough, I was more interested in what she was doing than anyone else. Oliver West is also note-worthy for providing a believable yet doubting Hamlet. His possessed look was mesmerising and something I loved; I had hoped he would have been used more however.
The lighting and soundscapes of the performance were atmospheric and magical. Not too in-your-face, but just enough to sit pulsating in the background, the music and lighting provides seamless transitions for the performance itself. David Denyer and Daniel English, you have my highest praise. I love a good soundscape.
Overall, the play was enjoyable, but there were a lot of wasted opportunities; moments that almost came into existence, only for our hopes to be dashed at the last second. The Hamletmachine churns on.
Hamletmachine is played at the Ugly Duck Theatre until 17 July. For more information and see the Ugly Duck theatre