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[As a follow up to yesterday's complaining entry...]

I guess my main problem was that I've already seen a few Hamlet productions (stage and film), and this one offered nothing new whatsoever, no specific vision to hold it all together, no interesting take on the characters, but instead a Hamlet whom I found it nearly impossible to sympathise with, because the few quieter moments didn't balance the over-the-top craziness of the rest of it for me. (Which actually came as a bit of a surprise, because for me that balance always worked perfectly in DW...)

It's probably also that once one is familiar with a play and has seen one or two versions that define it in ones own mind, a production has to be either really different, or very good indeed to make an impression. For me the first version I saw was Kenneth Branagh's film, which I realise wasn't a terribly innovative rendering of the story either, but I was younger then, and he did manage to tell 24-25 year old me a story I could relate to. Not the murdered father part, obviously, but the story of someone whose life as he knew it was falling apart, not just on the level of exterior events, but maybe more importantly on an internal, psychological level, and while he tries to re-assemble and regain control the disintegration only accelerates, and everything (except his friendship with Horatio) loses meaning in the process. Saw it in the theatre a ridiculous amount of times considering it was four hours long.

I'd have to rewatch it again, and maybe I'd change my mind, but I guess what stuck with me ever since is that I see Hamlet essentially as a confrontation with death and mortality, and in the end a journey towards death. This is a leitmotif in almost all of Hamlet's serious moments when he isn't faking madness, from 'Oh that this too solid flesh would melt,...', to Hecuba's fictional death (and then pondering the impact of fiction vs. reality), and 'To be or not to be...; then real death, the panicked, almost unintentional murder of Polonius, the more deliberate murder of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and the imminent death of all those soldiers over a worthless bit of land. The graveyard scene is no longer about the philosophical, ethical and theological aspects, but confronting the ultimate, very literally stripped-down physical reality of death. 'We defy augury,' is finally resigning himself to this, his own death, which he knows will come sooner rather than later, because there is no other way out of this tangled mess any longer.

And IMO Hamlet always saw his own death as an inescapable part of it all, which made it so hard; part of him longs for it even before he finds out about his father's murder, but I also think there's still a fundamental wish to live, even underneath all the talk about 'sterile promontory', 'foul and pestilent congregation of vapours' and 'quintessence of dust'; it shines through in his love for the actors, his friendship with Horatio, and the fact that he remembers a time when it wasn't all sterility and foulness. I don't think he ever envisioned successful revenge that wouldn't also end in his own death; or maybe it's that he couldn't picture his life, the person he'd become, if he truly went through with it. Hamlet isn't Laertes, or Claudius; there's a fundamental unwillingness to kill, born out of his more self-reflecting nature, that complicates things that are much more straight-forward for Laertes.

Then a few years later, actually nine years ago, which is a bit frightening, because it doesn't seem that long, and whenever did all that time pass, I saw Martin Kušej's production of the play, which I still wish I could have watched a second time, because I retain so few definite memories, and at the time completely blew me away. He took the play apart and reassambled it, Hamlet remixed, relinquishing the Ghost, Horatio, the grave digger and maybe another couple of minor characters, my memory is fuzzy, and creating instead a sort of imaginary alter ego figure for Hamlet, which I still think was a perfect idea, because especially in a more modern setting the Ghost is problematic. I caught myself glancing at the clock on top of my screen repeatedly yesterday, and the almost 45 minutes until the story with Ghost was finishd were tediously long.

I think you had to be familiar with the play to fully appreciate just how brilliant and intelligent the production was, which maybe isn't an ideal state of things, but this was one of the instances where the whole Regietheater worked really, really well for once. I've grown a bit less enthusiastic about Kušej since then, because he tends to be so absolutely, unrelentingly bleak (*), and I don't have such a high tolerance for that any longer, but there's no denying that he's very good, and he and M. Zehetgruber created images of absolute, stunning beauty. I remember calling it in my head the Hamlet Trent Reznor (of The Downward Spiral) could have written the music to.

I've been a bit apprehensive of watching Hamlet since then, because a year or so afterwards I sat through one at the Wiener Festwochen that was highly lauded by every critic, and was bored to tears; would have left in the intermission if there had been one. After Kušej's, every production I've seen so far seemed rather boringly conventional and a bit light-weight, just as I probably won't ever be able to watch a more romantic Don Giovanni again and not think it's making light of rape...

(*) Think CoE where killing Steven doesn't kill the 456, they still have to give up all the children, and the final scene is a devastated Gwen coming out of the clinic after she had an abortion, Rhys killing himself, and Jack completely insane. That level of bleak.


solitary summer

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