„To be or not to be, that is the question“. This quote comes from William Shakespeare’s work Hamlet. I recently saw a version of the play by Paul Stebbings with music from Thomas Johnson and produced by Grantly Marshall. Below I will write a review of this play.
The story begins with the wedding celebration of Gertrude and Claudius. Hamlet, the son of Gertrude and Old Hamlet, dead king of Denmark, is not happy about this and continues to miss his father. In a monologue, he complains about his mother’s behavior. Laertes warns Ophelia (before he leaves) of a relationship with Hamlet. When Polonius hears of Laertes‘ warning, he forbids Ophelia any contact with Hamlet. Hamlet’s college friend tells of an encounter with a ghost. Hamlet meets his father’s ghost, who tells him the truth about his death, namely that Claudius, new king of Denmark, murdered him. The ghost asks him to take revenge. After the encounter with the ghost, he acts differently. Polonius guesses that the reason for Hamlet’s strange behavior is that Ophelia has been rejecting him. Hamlet scares Ophelia at a meeting (arranged by her father) and deeply insults her. After the meeting he arranges a play in which he wants to make Claudius realize that he knows the truth. Claudius wants Hamlet to go to England. During a conversation between Hamlet and his mother, that is about to escalate, Hamlet accidentally kills Polonius, who had been hiding behind a curtain and who Hamlet thought was Claudius. Soon after, the ghost of Old Hamlet returns and asks Hamlet to calm down and to still take revenge. Claudius realizes that Hamlet actually wanted to kill him and sends him directly to England. When Hamlet is on his way back to Denmark and Laertes is back at the castle, he learns of the death of his father and sister, who committed suicide. Claudius takes the opportunity to offer Laertes to duel Hamlet with a poisoned weapon. Gertrude drinks wine which was poisoned by Claudius and dies. Hamlet finds out that the weapon is poisoned, and kills Laertes and Claudius with it. He gives Claudius the poisoned wine, which he also drinks and then passes away in the arms of his college friend.
For me the actors in the play performed their roles very authentically. Each actor had more than one role, which he or she played in a different way. All characters were presented individually, even if one person played two or more roles on stage, as in the case of Claudius and Old Hamlet. Not only the acting performance was impressive, but also the musical background. All the actors were additionally responsible for the music in the scenes in which they were not acting. Because of the appealing and impressive performance, there was no need for an elaborate stage set and the whole play seemed very balanced to me.
The stage design was very minimalistic. In the center was a half round wooden construction, which increased in height from left to right. The wooden construction was the only element on the stage. Only on the left side in the background were the musical instruments which were used by the actors. Besides the minimalistic design of the stage, I also liked the use of the entire theater hall. Not only the stage was used as a „playing area“ by the actors, also the area in front of the first row. Hamlet ran down the steps of the theater hall and before joining Polonius on stage, he first ran past the first row and hereby broke the 4th wall.
The ending of this version of Hamlet felt a little different to me, but it didn’t really disturb me. The bright spotlight on the „dying Hamlet“ highlighted him, while the rest of the stage, as it had been, stayed dark. The slow disappearance of the bright light made a complete ending. Also, the ending focused on the fate of Hamlet, which I personally feel is very logical because he is the main character of the play.
In my opinion the play combined comedy and tragedy . A rather funny scene is the appearance of the „actors“ in the play, who moved around the stage. For me, most of the funny aspects were mostly based on gestures, facial expressions and the costumes. The proportion of sad scenes outweighed the rest of the emotions. This feeling appears, for example, in the scene where Hamlet goes mad after discovering his father’s ghost (his interaction with the people around him changes radically). Also, the mother’s reaction to Hamlet’s actions, she does not believe him and mistrusts him, and the death of Hamlet’s mother caused by Claudius when she realized why she had to die, are examples of the sadness of the play. The scene in which the ghost of Old Hamlet first appears – the long introduction before he introduces himself to Hamlet, in combination with the music and the synchronous speaking of the ghost and two people in the background – reflects both suspense and a sense of danger.
Before I went to the theater, I didn’t have expectations of the play, because I have never seen this kind of play. For me it was most important that the play and the actors would not bore me after a short time and that I would prefer to leave the theater immediately. After a short time I noticed that I liked the play very much and it was more exciting than I expected. The content and scenes of Hamlet were presented more dramatically than I had recognized them in class (e.g. the appearance of Old Hamlet’s ghost). Although the language was old English and hard to understand, the context and preparation in class helped to follow the play.
All in all, I liked the play more than I previously thought. The way the content was presented made a lot of sense to me and was great to follow. This is a version of Hamlet I would recommend watching if you want to see one of Shakespeare’s plays on stage. However, in my free time I would go to theater plays like this rather in a small group than alone, because it makes it even more entertaining.
By Fiene Freimund