by William Shakespeare translated by Shoichiro Kawai.
Barbican Theatre To 24 May 2015.
Sat 7.15pm Mat Sat, Sun 2pm.
Runs 3hr 10min One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 22 May.
A thing of brilliant shreds and patches of surprising quiet.
This is the Barbican’s first Hamlet of the year, and the eighth by Japanese director Yukio Ninagawa, whose company brings it, with Kafka on the Shore, for their latest British visit. It starts where most productions end – with a curtain-call, the actors lining-up, richly robed, and bow. Something similar happens over three hours later, by when they’re more ragged following the play’s events.
As anyone knowing Stephen Sondheim’s Pacific Overtures will be aware, the country resisted foreign influences till well into the 19th-century. Shakespeare’s play only reached their shores in that century, and this production imagines it being rehearsed then amid, not a grand theatre, or an imperial court, but the space enclosed by poor tenements.
This space – courtyard or nation – is pierced by the Ghost of Hamlet’s father urging revenge, manifesting itself near-instantaneously on several levels though doors or windows, and spectacularly when the banners of Fortinbras’s army crash through, followed by their surprisingly mild-mannered leader.
Yet quiet is often a feature of this production. Some, at least, of Hamlet’s advice to the actors visiting Elsinore survives in a pared-back script (in Japanese, with English supertitles); in line with that, Tatsua Fujiwara’s Hamlet isn’t one to tear any passion to tatters. Amid the first court scene, he leans almost unnoticeably at the side, a long slim, black-gowned figure edging a colourful, lively court, the ruler Claudius good-humouredly engaging with Laertes and others.
That contrasts the private state of the guilt-ridden Claudus as he strips to his underwear, throws a bucket of cold-water over himself and embarks on a mix of prayer and self-flagellation. Hamlet sneaks-up behind, dagger in hand, then backs off for fear of killing the murderer in a holy position – his self-argument expressed in whispers all the way.
Which doesn’t deny action; the final sword-fight with Laertes, when display and confession meet, is a super-fast clash, a tribute to the actors’ physical skills, and to fight choreographer Naoki Kurihara. Contrastingly, Hikari Mitsushima makes an affectingly concentrated Ophelia in her final distraction. All under swathes of moon-cold or blood-red lighting from Motoi Hattori, and the invader’s all-conquering blue.
Hamlet: Tatsua Fujiwara.
Ophelia: Hikari Mitsushima.
Laertes: Sinnosuke Mitsushima.
Fortinbras: Kenshi Uchida.
Polonius: Taaka Takao.
Gertrude: Ran Ohtori.
Claudius/Ghost: Mikijiro Hira.
1st Gravedigger: Hatsuo Yamaya.
1st Player/2nd Gravedigger: Goro Daimon.
Cornelius/Priest: Ikkyu Juku.
Noregian Captain: Takashi Hirota.
Rosencantz: Hiroyuki Mamiya.
Voltemand/Prologue: Masafumi Senoo.
Osric: Tadashi Okada.
Guildenstern: Eiichi Seiki.
Francisco/Dumb Show King: Masato Shinkawa.
Marcellus: Tomoya Hoshi.
Messenger: Kazuhiko Noguchi.
Gentleman/Dumbshow Queen: Shinsuke Urano.
Sailor/Dumbshow Poisoner: Takamori Teuchi.
Bernardo: Shinya Matsuda.
Player Queen: Kensuke Sunahara.
Player King: Kazuaki Takeda.
Director: Yukio Ninagawa.
Designer: Setsu Asakura, Tsukasa Nakagoshi.
Lighting: Motoi Hattori.
Sound: Masahiro Inoue.
Costume: Ayako Maeda.
Hair/Make-up: Yoko Kawamura.
Fight choreographer: Naoki Kurihara.
Chief Assistant director: Sonsho Inoue.
Assistant director: Naoko Okouchi.
Presented by the Barbican in association with Rhelma Holt Ltd, Saitama Arts Foundation, HoriPro Inc.