So it turns out I don’t really get on with Eastern European theatre. This is a shame, because it’s The Next Big Thing in London theatre apparently (as everyone who saw Three Kingdoms will tell you) and I’m sure it’s very exciting if you are into it, but it gets a big old ‘meh’ from me, which is unfortunate because I am SO INTO weird pretentious experimental theatre in theory, I just find it a bit difficult in practice.
This may be the result of a module I took as a drama studies major, where a European artist collective led us in a “devised theatre practice” in which I pretended to hang myself with a keyboard cord to Daft Punk and a classmate dropped trou and mimed sexual intercourse with a watermelon, which we then smashed on the stage and consumed while I played an Irish polka on the fiddle. (For the record, I received a first-class mark in the module.)
Photo by Dmitri Matvejev
The lesson I learned in those heady days of autumn was that devised theatre is cheerful, silly and an easy way to get a good grade. And while I know that’s probably untrue, it has left me unable to really Do experimental Eastern European theatre, or at least take it seriously as art instead of something my 19-year-old friends and I did before heading to the Elephant & Castle Wetherspoons at 3pm.
So, this Hamlet!
Some images were brilliant. The ghost’s revenge was envisioned as ice, which he rubbed on shivering Hamlet’s feet until he submitted and agreed. Later, Hamlet smashed a block of ice and found a rusty knife inside: sharp, piercing, freezing, ancient, in all ways like his father’s spirit. Or like his memory of his father’s spirit, or of something that, more believably in this production than in any other I’ve seen, might have actually been a devil.
It’s been touring for decades and I agree with Blogging Shakespeare, who said it seemed oddly unsuited to the Globe stage, as well as John Morrison, who walked out after 25 minutes. The set and props were interesting, made of found objects and rubbish from Lithuania including a giant rusty buzzsaw wheel and head-sized wineglasses. The design was ice and fur, fire and metal – aggressively raw. Ophelia, in contrast, was in a dyed-green silk and lace dress; while Gertrude’s fur coat looked like it could have been ripped straight off the back of the bear, Ophelia’s could not have been made without settlement, cultivation and a complex process of production and artifice.
And I thoroughly agree with the process behind casting a rock musician as Hamlet.
But in the end, Meno Fortas’ Hamlet just didn’t work for me. It was intellectually interesting in two or three places but it never connected; and while I get that Eastern European theatre leans heavily on alienation, there needs to be more than that, and the occasional good imagery wasn’t enough.
I saw Globe to Globe’s Hamlet at Shakespeare’s Globe on June 3, 2012.