Hamlet at the BGET

October 4, 2014

The play’s not really the thing, in Thomas Ostermeier’s Hamlet, which opened the Dublin Theatre Festival at the BGET last Thursday night. Rather it’s the titular Dane himself whose madness takes centre stage in this fast, furious and extremely funny take on the Bard’s most acclaimed work.

Spoilt, fat and balding, Lars Eidinger’s self-indulgent fits of insane indignation are the most marvellous end result of a society gone to shit. It’s a non-stop rollover of excess, where beer is sprayed, guns fired and food drooled onto ones clothes, as the Court of Caligula welcomes the vacuous self-appraisal of Andy Warhol’s factory.

Something is rotten in the state of Denmark and it’s not just Hamlet Jnr whose feeling the effects. As he prowls the stage taking video-selfies and close-ups of the Royal Court, the gluttony of the Kingdom comes into soft focus, as the earth spews across the stage, a constant reminder of what piece of work is a man.

Claudius’ court is like a reality TV show crossed with a rock and roll press conference, cameras and microphones in constant rotation, with much of what is said being spoken in a manner conscious of the constant scrutiny of onlookers.

Robert Beyer’s Polonius is a ridiculous runt of a thing, tripping over his words, almost literally, in his attempt to impress Urs Jucker’s Claudius. He himself is so enamoured with his position that he struts and smirks with the desperation of a cheesy game show host, microphone forever in hand, smile plastered falsely to his face.

Both men’s fits of exorbitant rage highlights the perilous position of women in Elsinore, making Jenny König’s extraordinary Gertrude/Ophelia double-up feel like the tragic spoils of a patriarchal war, kow-towing or puckering up to their whims.

But this is Eidinger’s show, who rightfully sees badness wherever he looks and responds with maniacal disdain, rolling about in the dirt, adapting physical and vocal ticks and exploding through the fourth wall to hammer home life’s central tragedy.

All it takes for evil to prevail is for us to do nothing.

The acting is overwhelmingly good, six characters playing every part, the transformations simple, but keenly felt. Their energy is anarchic, the visuals astounding in their connection to the spirit of the play, and the absurdities that are littered throughout -the rap battles, the sex show, the occasional slide into modern parlance, all sweep us up in what Shakespeare was getting at. A kingdom in moral decline, illustrated by the mental decay of its (upside down) crown prince.

It’s a vital, agonising, excruciating experience, that feels painfully pertinent, no less so because we believe that these characters imploding before us exist.

But as the evening tarries on you become aware of the emperor’s new clothes, mainly because Ostermeier keeps slipping out of them to display his admittedly cracking figure. Excess is the theme of the production, and excess is what he gives us, no joke done once that can be done ten times. The breaking of the fourth wall is always hilarious, as is each one of Hamlet’s episodes, but you get the point, and then get to the point where everything that occurs in the final hour outstays its welcome and you become less excited, more exhausted.

Which could well be deliberate, an experiential numbness as the horror unfolds before us. In spite of it overrunning by nearly 30 minutes the night I saw it, it was still one of the most wildly evocative experiences I’ve had of a classic play.


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