by William Shakespeare translated by Marius von Mayenburg.
Barbican Theatre To 4 December 2012.
Runs 2hr 45min No interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 4 December.
The mind that’s o’erthrown here is challengingly unnoble.
Thomas Ostermeier’s German Hamlet (from the Schaubühne Berlin) begins fabulously. Through the veil of a curtain of beaded rows a formal dinner seems evident. On the screen comes Hamlet’s face in close-up with the opening lines of “To be or not to be”. The conscience of the prince comes between Elsinore and the audience.
At “Perchance to dream” Hamlet’s filmed head falls away and a parade of more or less grotesque faces appear; those around as Hamlet sees them. By the time Claudius, Gertrude and others come through the beaded rows, they appear diminutive beside their screen images. And as they trudge on to the earth floor for Hamlet senior’s funeral, an actor gradually turns the earth to mud with a sprinkler. On film he’d have been off-screen; it would have seemed real rain.
Amidst this downpour Lars Eidinger’s Hamlet keeps awkwardly trying to sink his father’s coffin into the ground. Wilfully separate from other people, his imagination grows diseased as his virgin-white mother becomes a sexy dancer and smoochy signer before turning into a snarling witch, then transforming into Ophelia. The younger woman, quiet, dark-haired young opposite of the blonde, white-dressed Gertrude, has no chance in Hamlet’s mind.
And what a difference a few pounds makes. Eidinger’s Hamlet, with the beginnings of a paunch, is losing his waistline along with his self-respect. Physicality, including food, causes disgust, as his friend Horatio, for example, is filmed scooping up mouthfuls.
This Hamlet eats dirt, literally. And instead of reality, he takes to performance. The play becomes the thing, and it’s the play he’s making of his life. Adding comments, in English, catching others on video, telling the audience what theatre, unlike cinema, can give, he finally climbs over the Stalls, apparently injuring himself before arguing whether he should go on.
It exposes Hamlet’s bullying side – as with many recent Hamlets it’s hard to find the “noble mind” or “sweet prince”; (if many Hamlet’s hadn’t been princes, they’d have been given a kicking or been arrested). So things become reductive, as boorish self-indulgence does. But they’re never less than challenging and inventive.
Claudius/Ghost: Urs Jucker.
Hamlet: Lars Eidinger.
Gertrude/Ophelia: Judith Rosmair.
Polonius/Osric: Robert Beyer.
Horatio/Guildenstern: Sebastian Schwarz.
Laertes/Rosencrantz: Stefan Stern.
Director: Thomas Ostermeier.
Designer: Jan Pappelbaum.
Lighting: Erich Schneider.
Music: Nild Ostendorf.
Video: Sébastien Dupuoey.
Costume: Nina Wetzel.
Fights: René Lay.
Dramaturg: Marius von Mayenburg.