The Rest is Silence
Last weekend, I went to see a production of Hamlet. Hamlet is one of those plays that I sort of, kind of, maybe feel like I don’t ever need to see again — it’s got some of the greatest monologues in the canon, but I’ve seen it (between movies and staged productions) probably a dozen times, and really, how many skulls can you peruse, and how many bodies can you heap in a pile for the final scene?
But this production was totally different.
This production was staged by Synetic Theater, and it’s Hamlet without words — in 90 minutes, start to finish.
Basically, the work felt like a ballet, but a ballet where the choreography truly focused on storytelling rather than on demonstrating dancing skill. It was definitely an adaptation — the company started out with Gertrude and Claudius leading a court dance, then backtracked to show the joy of Hamlet and Ophelia as a happy couple, then moved forward to show the actual murder of Hamlet’s father. From there on, it tracked the play relatively closely, although it added a scene to show Ophelia’s actual drowning, instead of just hearing about it after the fact. Basically, Hamlet was ironed out into a linear story, then depicted in wordless detail.
Parts of the production were absolutely inspired. The play within a play was brilliant — funny and absurd and provoking, without the drag of being repeated, the way it is in a standard production. The conversion of the minimal set into a boat for the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (are dead) scene was well done. Ophelia’s mad scene and her later death were inspired — and it definitely helped that the actor playing Ophelia looked like she’d stepped out of a pre-Raphaelite painting. The swordplay at the end (mimed without swords) was engaging, and the final tableau was striking.
I didn’t love all of it. Polonius was relatively young, and there wasn’t any hint of the old man’s foolishness that typically describes his character. Laertes was relegated to a comparatively minor role. Ultimately, the stripped-down costume and sets felt a little *too* reductive, like they were a bit too bargain-basement.
But overall, the entire show made me rethink Hamlet, made me revisit his story and his motivations and why things happened the way they did. And that’s a noteworthy accomplishment for any retelling of the Melancholy Dane’s tale…
What about you? Have you seen retellings of classic stories that worked particularly well? How about disasters? (Because, let’s face it. Disasters can often be more fun to talk about )