"O, that this too too solid flesh would melt,
Thaw and resolve itself into a dew!
Or that the Everlasting had not fix'd
His canon 'gainst self-slaughter! O God! God!
How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable
Seem to me all the uses of this world!" Act I, scene ii
|Luzerner Theater ; April 3, 2009 Lucerne, Switzerland|
Director : Andreas Herrmann ; Starring : Samia von Arx (Ophelia), Wiebke Kayser (Gertrud), Jörg Dathe (Claudius), Samuel Zumbühl (Hamlet)
Reviewed on : 2009-04-21 12:34:43 ; Reviewed by : Annett Baumast
|In his adaptation Hamlet. The Day of Killings, the late French dramatist Bernard-Marie Koltès brings Shakespeare’s dramatis personae down to size and leaves nobody but Hamlet, Ophelia, Gertrud and Claudius in the cast. No roles are doubled, and combined with the very austere scene – it consists of six large, white paper curtains, three on the right and three on the left side, two each at the front, middle and back of the stage – this production by Andreas Herrmann at the Luzerner Theater gives very much the impression of an intimate play.
Nearly all of the acting takes place on the front third of the stage, in front of the first two large curtains, which are torn down in the course of the performance. Except for Hamlet’s travel bag and three cups, which are employed at the very end of the play, no props are used in this production, underlining the fact that this play is about essentials and not the décor that we generally find coiled around it.
It is clear that the 1 hour 40 minute play by Koltès, which had its Swiss premiere at the Luzerner Theater on 26 March 2009, tries to carve out the very essence of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. But is that possible without Polonius? Without Laertes, Horatio, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern? Without a skull? Is the focus on “The Denmarks” sufficient for the extraction of the bare essence of Hamlet?
The players never create any rapport but remain four separate entities who do not seem to have relations on a personal level at all. They mostly speak to the audience and not to each other and even when Hamlet tries to send Ophelia off to a nunnery, there seems to be no tangible relationship between the two. Whether this is incompetence on the side of the director or actors, or whether this is the intention of this production remains unclear. The sound of the sea, nearly the only “special effect” used in this production, underlines this coolness and non-relatedness, audibly sending everybody to their own private little island.
While Koltès takes up quite a few lines from Shakespeare, it should not be forgotten that we have a double language filter: while Shakespeare’s Hamlet is, of course, in English, Koltès wrote his play in French, which is now translated into German. This leads to sentences such as “Frailty, thy name is woman” (I.2) being transformed into “frailty, a word of a woman”.
An aspect that Koltè focuses on very strongly is the idea of Claudius as an incompetent king. He continously comments on the political situation in Denmark, more and more losing the grip on his country. Why he wants to get rid of Hamlet in this version, though, does not become clear at all. He even turns into his murderer (instead of Laertes), poisoning him with the drink after Gertrud has tried his. Hamlet stabs him in return but as in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, also Koltès cannot deny that “the rest is silence”. (V.2)
Hamlet. The day of killings is not an easy adaptation of Hamlet. Knowing Shakespeare’s play helps with understanding Koltès’ work, but the question remains what he has actually distilled this great play into: hardly any clear topics or ideas stand out.
Sir John Gilbert, R.A.,
Hamlet in the Presence of His Father's Ghost
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