Hamlet à la Russe

REVIEW by MEREL ZUIDERDUIN

St. Petersburg State Theatre Arts Academy, Acting and Directing, fourth year, St. Petersburg, Russia

Before the actual performance, the audience is surprised by another. Veniamin Filshtinsky, the Russian director and his translator take to the stage, and offer a word of welcom. The two look like they walked straight out of a Tsjechov play. Tonight, we are going to see a traditional Hamlet, with actors who fully embody their roles. Stanislavski-style. But with a modern twist and a large amount of guts: Hamlet will not die, so the director tells us. `We keep him alive, we are very kind.´

The old Felix Meritis building forms a nice contrast with the few pieces of decor the group brought with them: mirrors and light bulbs. At the start of the first scene the actors start using the space, climbing up the pillars en opening the old dusty window racks.

Then they start to speak. In Russian everything seems to sound more intense, especially the scenes of anger and madness – of which, Hamlet has a lot. It helps to try to ignore the English surtitles, because they´re only a distraction from the emotion you feel, listening to the musicality of the Russian language.

The young man that plays Hamlet screams and shouts and cries and rips his shirt apart. There are very few Dutch actors that dare to act with this level of intensity and emotional commitment. I get the feeling I am not supposed to like this, but I do. It´s hard not to go along with these big emotions.

Between the scenes heavy classical music arises, and the king and queen start dancing. Girls in white angel-like dresses  appear and create short musical intervals, using only their voices. The tension builds up and explodes in a passionate scene wherein Hamlet plays a one man show.  He tries to get his uncle to confess the murder on Hamlet’s father.  At this point I realize that not only do these bold  Russians let hamlet live, they also cut out the most influential monologue in theatre history: “to be or not to be…”

After Hamlet’s performance he and his mother get in a fight and Hamlet accidentally kills the eaves-dropping Polonius, thinking he was revenging his father’s death by killing his uncle. During the big dramatic crying and screaming that follows, I catch myself holding my breath and pressing back an tear. Maybe it was for the best Hamlet didn’t die, because I just wouldn’t be able to handle that much drama.

At the end of the performance, Hamlet starts reading out loud. When I listen carefully I can make out ten words: “to be or not to be, that is the question”. In stuttering English…

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