Tuesday 28 August 2007

Escaping Hamlet

Underbelly, Edinburgh

Half of Escaping Hamlet’s cast, as well as the show’s writer and director, are Italian. The show is performed in English. A convincing and though-provoking Hamlet in only 90 minutes even in one’s own language would be an impressive feat. What a task they have taken on.

Natalia Capra and Gianpiero Borgia have chosen specific aspects of Hamlet and created what feels like an entirely new piece of work, much more than a mere adaptation. Hamlet’s passion for theatre has been expanded into a major theme that drives the production, his selfishness and inability to commit attributed not to madness but to the desire of a young person to escape and find a creative path of his own.

An empty picture frame and plinth and a catwalk make up the set. The company fills these spaces, creating a never-ending series of tableaux. In their shimmering haute couture costumes they are beautiful to look at, their perfect exteriors drawing attention to the deeply flawed and ugly characters within. Music and dance are used extensively and to good effect, with different versions of a few key songs repeated throughout the show to lend support to particular themes. Some moments of physical theatre are too obscure to be truly convincing, but the inclusion of such elements does work to create an atmosphere that is at once strange and intriguing.

There are many pop culture influences on this production but no trace of dumbing-down. Characters engage in lengthy monologues in an attempt to make sense of their roles in the intellectual, political and social muddle that is Denmark. The conclusions they reach have tragic implications. Performances are excellent across the board, but there are moments where the production’s thematic intentions do not quite match the original’s plot and characterisations are undermined. Nonetheless, this is a brave and imaginative exploration of one of Shakespeare’s most complex plays.



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