As much as I love Shakespeare, I was somewhat skeptical when a friend from residence invited me to come along and see a production of Hamlet. It’s a long enough play to begin with, and if there’s one thing I remember from reading cereal boxes at the breakfast table, it’s that the ingredient list is always longer in French. Not a welcome forecast for a play that runs 3-4 hours in English. The play was being put on by a company called Groupe Rictus, and produced by David Bobee at Les Subsistances: Laboratoire de création artistique. Seeing as how we were getting a student group discount, how my friend was invited by the man playing Hamlet and how I didn’t have anything better to do, I decided to tag along.
Best. Decision. Ever.
Though I do appreciate it, I like Hamlet far less than any of the other plays of Shakespeare’s that I have seen. Didn’t matter a bit. The actors could have been speaking pig latin and pretending they were monkeys for the entire three hours and I would still have loved it on the strength of its artistic direction.
The set was entirely black tile and stainless steel – a black tile floor, black tile counters with stainless steel tops, and black tile walls almost 20 feet high with a stainless steel pole and several morgue-style square doors to one side. Instead of a curtain, there was a row of floor-length, clear plastic strips – it looked like the exit of a car wash, or the cover of one of those open freezer shelves at a grocery store. Crazy light shows were projected on this from behind, so that it looked almost like a hundred flexible screens.
Around the third act (hard to gauge, since there was no intermission) as Hamlet walked slowly out onto the stage, water started to flow alongside him from backstage. Soon, the entire stage was covered in water – with the black floor beneath it, this created a thirty-foot-wide mirror. Lighting actors from just downstage produced reflections of the ripples around them and shadows where they stood.
I will go so far as to say that this was the best interpretation of any of Shakespeare’s plays that I have ever seen. It was eerie, surreal, creative and original – the last of which being especially difficult with plays that have been performed hundreds of times over. This experience has left me with such a good impression of French theatre I’m too nervous to go see another play for a good long time, lest I be disappointed.
Uhff. Mind-bendingly good.
I found a short videoclip posted by Les Subsistances – of course it doesn’t capture the atmosphere, but it gives you the gist of it: http://vimeo.com/15250092 [/edit]