Hamlet at the O’Reilly Theatre

October 28, 2013


We Irish love a good Dane. Whether deconstructed, as in the recent U-R Hamlet or Pan Pan’s Playing the… or more traditional mountings like the ones put on by Second Age. In recent years, such was our thirst for the Prince of Procrastination we even imported the Icarus Theatre Collectives stab at fecking with the folio, with a female Horatio and a choral delivery of the soliloquies (shudder). Now there’s The Wooster Group’s Hamlet, which, as titled, would certainly have caught less observant purists on the hop, as it see’s the group act like cinematic and theatrical drag queens, mimicking the film of a famed production staring Richard Burton and directed by John Gielgud.

The company shadow and echo the initial productions character readings, their vocal style and physical stance, as the film flickers above them in haunting black and white. But like all drag artists, the companies own characteristics emerge from under the adapted clobber using all sorts of digital trickery to fuse that past production with their present take off, with mediums melding into, and materialising out of, one another. The cast will be alive on stage before us before becoming possessed by the past image, which will then fade from the screen, making us spectators at a thrilling theatrical séance. Occasionally the original film disappears altogether, comically replaced by either Kenneth Brannagh’s or Ethan Hawke’s interpretation.

More strikingly, they recreate on stage the action of the camera, pushing the wheeled fragments of the set forwards and backwards as it zooms in and out, the jerky motion of the actors replicating sudden edits. It’s invigorating and immensely enjoyable to watch.

But Christ is it long. Too bloody long. Once the company has wowed you with it’s appearance and alerted you to the long shadow cast by theatre’s past which can never be grasped by its present, it’s starts to sag, with a second act that needed a serious edit to stop audience members flickering in and out like the fiddled with film before them.

There are immensely imaginative moments- the doubling up during the Murder of Gonzago scene is a delight, the rising beat of Fischerspooner’s Emerge before Laertes kicks off is a thrill (Fischerspooner provide all of Laertes’ tunes, the character himself being played by the groups founding member Casey Spooner). And the dispensing of Greg Mehrten’s marvelous Polonius left many howling. But the sheer length of too many scenes wore away the thrill of the visual. Since the production was clearly not trying to uncover anything from the text- rather use it as a way to explore the ephemerality of a theatrical experience, the length of the evening diminished what had gone before.

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