To review or not to review- that is the question.
What to review, if you review- that IS the question.

I could review the story- the text- the production… but in this pre-review entry I am going to review audience expectation.

It is a well known fact that classics are favoured by auteur directors who like to splash flamboyant design throughout the production or completely scrape away design aspects (sometimes in equal measure) from the grand classics of the canon… and there is a sport in the re-imagining of texts in contemporary contexts- the re-labelling of “swords” as “guns”… the transposition in time and space for it is not the coating- the costumes nor the design- that make a story great. It’s the relationship between the audience and the characters in their situation.

We cannot escape our own social context. We can’t escape the subliminal truths that are advertised and sold to us on a day to day basis- so naturally we greet our art with out opinions and expectations. When asked what I think is good theatre- I answer with a very confident response- something that hits me in the gut, the heart or the mind- either in equal measure or perhaps powerfully in one of the three. Ostermeier’s Hamlet hit me in gut and in the mind- mainly because I was confronted by my own expectations.

Hamlet is an inescapable text for an English speaking country. We are taught it in school, at Universities- there are several productions performed locally every year- if you want to see Hamlet- you can get it on tap pretty much anytime anywhere- the availability and access to poor productions has cheapened the value of the story (in my view). We see the Hamlet which challenges the audience through setting it elsewhere- or in a different time- but regardless of the design preoccupations… the text is editted but not re-invented.

If anyone caught (or is familiar with) Kinetic Energy’s De-masquerade of Shakespeare wherein they explore (heartilly) claim that the true identity of Shakespeare is Edward De Vere- or perhaps if you are a scholar you may be familiar with the many versions of Hamlet and the versions of the script which have been collated to become what is known as the “text” today. It is interesting to note that the most loved, produced and quoted writer of all time had many versions of his plays (as documents) and that the authorship is somewhat contentious.

What I felt completely inspired and invigorated by was the dramaturgy of the piece- the reordering of scenes, the clarification of the text- the contemporary collage which fed into this new interpretation. However- many will not like this production- for several reasons- perhaps a it of cultural cringe (which is how I feel about the constant productions of Shakespeare ANYWAY), perhaps seeing this as a derivative of Benedict Andrew’s work (and that only depends on how much theatre you see), and some will hate it for the corruption of what they know and love in the text they have read (or studied). I think its interesting though to note that an audience’s dissatisfaction is an interesting one.

What are they dissatisfied by? What was not delivered- was the show not the show they anticipated? And why is that disappointing? Why is that not considered to be spontaneously rivetting? Why is that not applauded? (more about audience response can be found –

All in all- the discussion of the work is the most important thing- so we may become more articulate and confident theatre goers- that the conversational wrestle shoudl be part and parcel of the expereince… not this polite “it was good” or ” it was bad” assessement of the experience.

Furthermore, I would like to invite you to compare and contrast the snippets of the reviews from Germany which are advertising the show in the Sydney Festival Program and the Hamlet Program and the reviews that are available in Australia- but don’t look at what is being said- look at how it is being said. Below is my review- perhaps not my finest piece of review work -but thats what a 24 hour turn around yields.

As reviewed for www.australianstage.com.au

Hamlet | Schaubuhne & Sydney Festival

Leading the Sydney Festival’s theatre program for 2010, is possibly one of the most studied, most referenced, most quoted and theatrically emblematic plays of the English canon, Hamlet. Only this time- it’s in German.

In a new translation by Marius von Mayenburg, Schaunbuhne Berlin’s resident director Thomas Ostermeier has asked us to surrender stale school books and give over to watch the maniacal suffering of a brilliant mind in an horrific situation. Taut and robustly unapologetic, this irreverent re-working of Shakespeare’s text- twenty characters are distilled into eleven- played by a company of six actors. The result is a throbbing circus of events- at times farcical, at times leaden with despair and laced with contemporary iconography- Ostermeier’s Hamlet confronts contemporary theatre head-on, full force and with a wicked grin.

We are plunged into Hamlet’s (Lars Eidinger) tragedy as soon as the audience lights dim. A grave centre stage- a wooden casket awaits burial. Slowly- umbrellas in hand- actors make their way through a golden beaded curtain onto the dark earthy peat of the burial ground. Rain. A gravedigger tumbles over himself and the coffin- a poignant situation disintegrates into slapstick horror as his wife and her new husband look on. Moments later- a wedding feast. Rejecting the Shakespearean exposition “telling” the audience of this sequence of events- von Mayenburg and Ostermeir choose to “show” the audience the swift turn of events- and suddenly we are placed in the immediate centre of the conflict. Hamlet’s mother, Gertrude (Judith Rosmair) moments after her husband’s death has married his brother Claudius (Urs Jucker)- who has become the new King of Denmark. When Hamlet’s father’s ghost (Urs Jucker) appears and asks Hamlet to avenge his murder, Hamlet dons the guise of a madman in self-defence and unintentionally destroys himself in the process.

This is not a traditional, paint-by-numbers, recitation of Shakespeare’s text re-costumed in contemporary clothes. This is a production pulsing with angry (and very playful) theatrical lifeblood. A production which reinvents Hamlet as a person whose defence is his own undoing- his ambitious and bloody pursuit hurtles him inexorably towards his own demise. Scenes are re-ordered (some are edited, some translated, some transposed and some re-written) and text becomes referenced as Hamlet tells Rosencrantz (Stefan Stern) and Guildenstern (Sebastian Schwarz) to leave him as he has a monologue to do. Actors break out of performing- both out of character and out of the performance space. This is a creative re-thinking of the story for a contemporary audience. Everything is examined- death, love, sex, loyalty, family, politics- even the practice of theatre itself. What you assume is theatre- entertainment- performance, is interrogated and parodied.

Designers Jan Pappelbaum (set), Nina Wetzei (Costume) and Erich Schneider (lighting) create an earthbound world in which the life of the characters seems to be grotesque and gaudy. Video by Sebastien Doupouey amplifies Hamlet’s perspective dwarfing the characters onstage, whilst Nils Ostendorf’s music grates, groans and swells as an impressive driving force. Hamlet demands your attention and keeps it throughout the non-stop two and a half hour rapage.

It is very, very true, “If you think you’ve seen Hamlet- it’s time to think again” because this production demands you think beyond what’s dreamt of in our philosophies- reach beyond your expectations and encounter a work which is dynamic and utterly enthralling.