The ‘deconstruction’ of classical texts is a familiar spectacle in modern theatre, yet the tactic seldom rises beyond amusing irreverence. Thomas Ostermeier’s rightly acclaimed version of Hamlet, by contrast, takes a real relish in its destructive desires and — as a result — it thoroughly reinvigorates Shakespeare’s play in one of the highlights of the Dublin Theatre Festival.
Indeed, one of the things Ostermeier’s production discovers is that Hamlet is itself a play about destruction. The German director viscerally stresses the theme of decay and how the very rotting ‘matter’ of the world around us works its way into our minds and actions. Hence, on the stage’s extraordinary soil-covered set we find characters drawn repeatedly to the dark earth, falling face-first into it, kicking it, throwing it. They even ingest it, their tongues left blackened and their minds made unhinged by the taste of death and putrefaction.
Of all the loopers onstage, Hamlet is the looper-in-chief. Hamlet here is not just “mad north northwest”. His whole compass is skewered. In a mesmerising performance, Lars Eidinger relays Hamlet’s task, to avenge the murder of Hamlet’s father, as a crazed mirror of his own task as an actor: to traffic with images of death and desire for our amusement and relief. But Eidinger isn’t having that. Repeatedly, he breaks character to seduce or rail against the audience. When a man he addresses in the crowd doesn’t respond to him, he mocks him for still believing in the ‘fourth wall’ and promptly performs a mime of his own entrapment behind this invisible wall.
While it’s spiked with an undeniable nihilism, Ostermeier finds an urgent joy in the sheer possibilities of the ‘total theatre’ experience. He plays with props — a water-hose, cartons of juice — with childish delight, while immersing the audience in audiovisual rapture with the aid of songs from rock bands Battles and Godspeed You Black Emperor. Running for almost three hours, it all makes for a perfect blend of thematic gravity and stupefying silliness.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved