Set in the ruins of Europe, Heiner Muller’s Hamletmachine is a difficult play for the audience. In her programme notes for the current Collide Theatre production, director Emily Louizou asks the viewer not to “try to understand everything which will be happening around you,” but to “experience the crisis you will see.”
Initially, her caution seems misplaced.
A coffin is led into the warehouse space carried by bearers wearing wedding dresses with black veils, while Gertrude and Claudius are married to the wedding march. The juxtaposition of images seems clear and in keeping with Shakespeare’s original play. Then we are taken to an adjoining room where Ophelia runs back and forth as if in a madhouse rather than a nunnery, speaking in German as well as English. The use of three Ophelias reflects the multiple personalities of a young woman beset by madness, something aided by two tongues.
Unfortunately, the performance’s initial success is not carried through to the latter scenes, as we are led through a London music hall with the echoes of Cabaret, to the chaos of a revolt and ultimately the tearing up of history, before being released to the outside world.
The performance had two significant failings. First, the use of multiple actors speaking in chorus distracted from rather than complemented the play’s language. At times the two Hamlets were out of synch, something which jarred. However, my main concern lay with the performance’s lack of vibrancy and vitality. In her notes Louizou advises us to “first take some of it in” rather than to struggle too much with the meaning. Given the youthful nature of the cast and the excellent warehouse venue, I expected to be swept away by the physicality of the performance. Sadly – the opening two scenes excepted – I was not.
In the end I was relieved to be let out to the outside world rather than to be kept within the chaos unfurling within.
Hamletmachine was performed on 16th & 17th July. For more information about Collide Theatre visit: collidetheatre.wordpress.com.
Review for TNT by Mark Bibby Jackson