When you go to see a production of Hamlet, you will probably have a certain set of expectations. You might envisage a grand re-telling of one of William Shakespeare’s most famous plays, complete with ornate set design and regal acting. You might also expect that it might be performed in English, rather than in German with English subtitles. If you were to see Berlin’s Schaubühn’s production at the Grand Canal Theatre, most of your expectations will be tossed spectacularly aside in what is a bizarre yet captivating adaptation Shakespeare’s play.
The story of Hamlet is a famous one, and stands tall as one of Shakespeare’s best known works. If you think that you know all there is to know, then you’re wrong; you couldn’t possibly know everything when this performance brings so many new themes. Veering between dark, dangerous and chaotic comedy, to intense drama, this adaptation is unfailingly bold in its delivery.
Its principal strength is in the actors, who are superb in working in what has to be a difficult setting. Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother, and his love interest Ophelia are both played by the superb Jenny Konig. Her transitions are done in an incredibly obvious way, that adds another dimension of false appearances to an already unusual setting.
The star of the show is Hamlet, played by Lars Eidinger. He veers between unsettling drama to hilarious audience interaction, he situates this as something very different from your standard Shakespeare play. His madness is overstated, however successfully done as a comic device, as he runs around often screaming and shouting in fits of rage.
Most of all, the play succeeds as a demented comedy, filled with lurid and grotesque scenes. Its simple set design, while not being visually appealing, makes a much grander statement than most Hamlet adaptations. Simply made up of brown earth, and a moving platform that hosts the wedding table, it looks filthy and unfinished. It serves as a constant, gritty reminder that there is in fact something rotten in the state of Denmark. Its design becomes more intensely important as the play progresses, and it becomes littered with beer cans and other signs of debauchery.
The Schaubühn’s production of one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays is a constantly intriguing one, and also surprisingly hilarious. While its humour is at its centre, providing much of its genius, it makes a much deeper and darker statement than might be immediately obvious. It serves as a subversion of Shakespeare as well as a form of innovation in all aspects of theatre. It is the kind of play that you will never forget, and will think about for days on end, wondering, questioning, and trying to emerge from a slightly confused state of mind.
The Schaubühn production is a thunderous success, offering so many violently new interpretations to what has always been an accepted formula.