Fri, Mar 26, 2010 - Page 14 News List

DRAMA: Brevity is the soul of wit

By Ian Bartholomew  /  STAFF REPORTER

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To bring the curtain down on the drama component of the 2010 Taiwan International Festival (2010台灣國際藝術節), a new production of Hamlet by Thomas Ostermeier and the Schaubuhne am Lehniner Platz will be performed at the National Theater this weekend. Following on from his huge success with Ibsen’s The Doll’s House at the National Theater in October 2006, all three Taipei shows of Ostermeier’s Hamlet have long since sold out.

At a press conference to welcome the arrival of the company in Taipei, Ostermeier said that despite being in charge of artistic direction at the Berlin Schaubuhne am Lehniner Platz, which is described by the Goethe-Institut as one of “the most important venues of German-language theater,” many of his works are better appreciated overseas than in Germany itself.

Ostermeier’s Hamlet created a sensation at the Festival d’Avignon when it premiered there and it has since toured widely to great acclaim, with some critics suggesting that Ostermeier might be the man to bring Shakespeare into the 21st century. Certainly he is not the only artistic director who is trying to do that, but Bardolatory is not among Ostermeier’s sins. When asked how his hugely condensed play, which runs for just two-and-a-half hours without interval (full productions aiming to reproduce the canonical text can run well over four hours), Ostermeier began talking not of the Bard, but of the many interpretations that have existed of this story over the centuries, each trying to make of it something different.

Although some theater purists have questioned whether Ostermeier has any love for Shakespeare or the other playwrights he has reinterpreted, it would be hard to doubt his high regard for the longevity of Shakespeare’s words, which he spoke of not as something written four centuries ago, but as part of a very contemporary philosophical inquiry about what it is to be ... or indeed, not to be.

It was particularly refreshing to hear Lars Eldinger, who takes the title role, speaking of the greatness of Shakespeare’s character not as something that an actor should seek to inhabit, but as something so flexible, so comprehensive and capacious that it is able to serve the actor in presenting himself. In this case, it is a self that is filled with self-loathing and the anguish of self-imposed alienation.

Hamlet is famously a play in which pretense and acting are major plot elements, which makes it a great vehicle to express various aspects of modern drama theory. This production also makes use of multimedia, though when speaking to the press, Ostermeier didn’t make much of the technology, simply saying that it was part of the toolbox modern directors work with. In this case, it provides the occasion for an additional layer of the play (Hamlet is gadget mad, and annoys his family by constantly filming their activities, images which then get projected onto a moving background screen).

Many of the elements used by Ostermeier are also popular with local directors, but while Hamlet has its full share of technological props and conceptual game playing, it also possesses an in-your-face physicality and grotesqueness that has clearly contributed to its success. Although all tickets have been sold, the good news is the huge local response to this production should ensure that there will be more to come.

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