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performance oe HAMLET William Shakespeare Directed by Klaus Michael GrUber Schaubuhne am Lehniner Platz (Berlin) Arthur Holmberg Hamlet is Shakespeare's most frequently performed play. It is also his longest, and it has now become the fashion on the Continent to do it uncut, which means that a performance runs close to seven hours. Even under the best of circumstances one is in for a rather long evening. Klaus Michael GrOber's version is not only uncut but expanded (some up-to-date colloquial prose has been tacked on to the classic August Wilhelm Schlegel translation ), so that the eveningspent at the Schaubthne turns into a very long night. But despite its failings (the acting was uneven; the tempo, slow), it still remains the most provocative Hamlet I have seen since Nicol Williamson 's flawed though compelling production. The newly opened theatre-reputed to be Europe's most expensively mechanized stage-has recycled Eric Mendelssohn's landmark UniversumCinema into an imposing playing space that creates an oppressive sense of height and width (imagine a stage the size of the Metropolitan Opera overpowering an auditorium of 450 spectators). GrUber has turned this massive semi-circular concrete hulk to good account in his post-structuralist rereading of the text, but it seems to me that such an imposing architectural statement would overwhelm most productions and sooner than later become an albatross. Since the poured concrete backwall looks like a barricade, it formed a natural setting for l.i. Nobody ever wrote better opening scenes than Shakespeare, and Shakespeare never wrote a better opening scene than Hamlet. By perching Marcellus, Bernardo, and Francisco aloft in a look-out 49 window, Gruber turned the dark stage into an armed camp. Tired, overwrought , and on edge, the nightwatch stared glumly into the audience, and we became the enemy. From the outset, GrUber created an atmosphere of physical menace. The stage remained bare throughout. No props, no sets, just constantly shifting patterns of light that defined, destroyed, and redefined the playing space against a bright-hued, marble mosaic floor. At times, the light entered the stage from a small door left ajar, and the actors would remain half in light and half in darkness. This created the sense of courtiers plotting and counterplotting in the shadows of power. During Ophelia's last scene the entire theatre went black except for three tiny spots of light on stage that the broken girl wandered into and out of, singing her song of St. Valentine's Day. I have never seen a better mad scene. Nor have I seen a better presentation of the Ghost. Using Hitler's Domlicht technique, the only light in the house glared off the Ghost's shining armor. Since the light was blinding, it was difficult to make out exactly what was happening. In almost every production of Hamlet the Ghost nudges the audience to polite giggles or loud guffaws. Here, it was other-worldly and awe-inspiring (the majestic sound of Purcell's King Arthur aided immeasurably). And the play within the play was lit by real torchfire, flickering across the court like a threat. GrUber, in other words, found paralinguistic equivalencies that reechoed the darkness and death motives of the text to create a magnetic field of meaning. HAMLET Ruth walz To emphasize the artificiality and hypocrisy of the court, Gruber exaggerated vocal patterns and movements to a brittle mannerism. Ophelia, usually bent over a lute at right angles, whined in a Pierrot Lunaire Sprechstimme. Edith Clever's Gertrude became the ultimate hieroglyph of power. Her rich gowns, heavy jewels, and stiff poses came straight from the brush of Hans Holbein. Elegant, distant, impassive, she spoke with a stilted Prussian accent and resumed in her own person everything that was beautiful and rotten in Denmark. The main interest of the evening centered on the Hamlet. Bruno Ganz looks like a boxer slowly giving in to neurasthenia, a battle-scarred bulldog striking back at the absurdity of the universe with his fists. His constantly shifting performance style indicated the clashing levels of theatrical discourse Gruber brought to bear on this most problematic of problem plays. At the beginning, Ganz put on the melancholic...


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pp. 49-52
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