Conceived and Directed by Tjaša Črnigoj
Based on Hamlet by William Shakespeare
Première November 21, 2014, Kulturnica LGL
A Biteater Project Production
Running time 1 hour, 10 minutes. No interval.
WHAT I SAW
We enter a tiny space in the Maribor Puppet theatre, possibly the stage with the fire curtain down. The house seats about 40 people. There are some beers grouped together on the ground upstage left, and a coatrack where costume pieces hang upstage right. Two young men are onstage waiting expectantly, excitedly, for us to sit down so they can begin. They’re a little like kids who are pumped to show their parents the thing they just made. On the back wall of the space, they’ve written out “Hamletovanje" (Hamleting, in English).
The show begins: one actor, we’ll call him Actor 1, performs Hamlet’s first monologue, and then, upon the ghost’s entrance, plays him as well. The other actor, who we’ll call Actor 2, offers sound effects. Actor 1 seems pretty pleased with himself, and Actor 2, following his lead, is equally pleased to support. He is taking all his cues from Actor 1. This is particularly obvious when Actor 1 recites their battle cry, and Actor 2 joins in on round 2. Fists thrust in the air, they shout,
“The time is out of joint; O curs’d spite,
That ever I was born to set it right!”
In Slovenian, this sounds more like lyrics out of a playground chant than a famously serious line from a famously serious Shakespeare play.
As the actors move forward in the tale, they vocally provide some transitional music (a plucky set of harmonized and syncopated “ba-da-bas” that could have scored a circus show) as they make a square on the ground with tape. “Denmark’s a prison” Actor 1, again as Hamlet, says, in the box.
We next get a lightning round introduction to all of the other characters in the play, all played by Actor 2. For each, Actor 2 dons a costume piece from the coat rack, gives us a few of the characters’ lines with one or two defining characteristics: Ophelia is a jewelry box ballerina, Gertrude is a drunk, Polonius over-gesticulates to the point where his gesticulations take on a life of their own, Rosencratz and Guildenstern, faithful pups, and Claudius, a Japanese action movie villain, his mouth moving longer than his speech.
We meet the players, played by Actor 2, of course. Actor 1, as Hamlet, invites Actor 2 to recite a monologue, the “to be or not to be” monologue (why not?). Actor 2 begins in jest but gets serious, gets into it, does well. Actor 1 here recites some speech from Hamlet suggesting he would have done it much better. Actor 2 takes this in.
We pause here for a dance break to some electronic dance music. “Look ma, we’re being experimental!” they seem to say.
Onwards to the play, the thing with which to catch the conscious of the king: The Mouse Trap. Actor 1 plays Hamlet, as per usual, and actor 2 plays Claudius. Actor 2’s Claudius steals the scene.
Admittedly, I don’t know what they say here, as it is improvised and so there are no subtitles, but the humor is clear, and Actor 2 uses it, quite successfully, as a weapon to get the audience’s focus: iinterrupting Actor 1 at inopportune moments, crawling through the audience trying to “quietly exit” due to a coughing fit, and so on.
This is not what Actor 1 had in mind. He tries to show Actor 2 what he should be doing. Actor 2 says – “ok, I’ll play Hamlet and you play Claudius.” Here is where things start to get really interesting.
Mid “performance” of The Mouse Trap, (nothing is actually happening onstage because no one is playing the players here), Actor 1 has a coughing fit and has to leave the stage. Actor 2, a little lost without his partner, searches for something to do, and then dives in, with gusto. He strips down to some colorful neon leggings, and turns on the electronic dance music. He is Hamlet and he’s got the moves to show it! This continues until he is interrupted by Actor 1, who has come on with a better Claudius costume (an impressively campy Viking hat) and they begin the scene wherein Hamlet debates killing Claudius while Claudius prays. They argue over whether or not there should be music. Rather than finish the Claudius scene, Actor 2 convinces Actor 1 to do Gertrude with him.
What comes next is an intensely violent scene, with Actor 2 throwing actor 1 all around the space, pulling his hair, choking him, and eventually pinning him to the ground. It feels much more like a fight between the actors than the characters. It ends and Actor 1 sits on the ground in a corner, sulking, or perhaps cowering.
We move forward. Actor 2 throws dirt all over the ground and convinces Actor 1 to play a Rosencratz and Guildenstern scene with him. He bullies Actor 1 into getting on all fours and barking, wraps masking tape around Actor 1’s neck, and makes him eat dirt. Actor 1 exits angrily.
Actor 2 continues his Hamleting for a bit, and hands out some of the beers that have been sitting onstage, until Actor 1 returns, with a kind of vengeance. He brings a red rope light onstage, plugs it in. He performs as Ophelia, her final monologue. He gathers up all the remaining beers and proceeds to drink them, one by one, until his body starts to reject the beers. He vomits, lying on the ground. As he speaks the character’s final words, he strips, until he is completely naked. He stares at Actor 2, as if to say, “top that.”
The two stare at each other for a long time.
Actor 2 leaves the stage. He returns with clothes. They stare at each other. As they slowly start to dress, they outline the end of the play – how each character dies. They are clothed. They turn to stare at us. Lights down.
WATCH A TRAILER FOR HAMLETING
NUTS AND BOLTS
Cast size and detail: 2M
Touring Size: Cast of 2, 2 technicians, 2 escorts, 6 in total
Minimum height/width/depth of stage: 4m, 4m, 4m
Load in Time: 1 hour
Strike time: 1 hour
Cartage Information: Minimal set. Could fit in a suitcase.
Translation Options: subtitles/surtitles available
Representation: Pija Bodlaj - firstname.lastname@example.org
The Future: For information on future performances of Hamleting, contact Pija Bodlaj at email@example.com
Availability: Hamleting will be available to tour through 2016.
Director: Tjaša Črnigoj
Tjaša Črnigoj (1988) is a theatre director from Slovenia. After graduating with a degree in Philosophy and Comparative Literature and Literary Theory at the Faculty of Arts of the University of Ljubljana, she studied Theatre Directing at the Academy of Theatre, Radio, Film and Television (AGRFT) in Ljubljana. Her mentor was Jernej Lorenci. She was also a student of Ivica Buljan (as an assistant and a participant of the Experimental Theatre Academy) and Bojan Jablanovec (VN Lab). After staging of Caligula, a play written by Albert Camus, her final production at the AGRFT (2013), she directed theatre performances in the independent theatre scene: performance of Slovenian Mythology (The Night of The Deceased), a miniature movement performance – part of the Troika Coproductions (Glej and Mladinsko Theatre, Overflight Festival), Hamleting (BiTeater), Strawberry Girl (Mini Theatre) and Alice (Glej Theatre). Since 2015 she has been a member of the NETA International Ensemble. In October 2015, her performance Hamleting took part in the Accompanying Programme and in the Showcase of the 50th Maribor Theatre Festival.
Theatre: Ljubljana Puppet Theatre
Ljubljana Puppet Theatre is the central Slovenian Puppet Theatre, hosting puppet shows and drama performances for both young and adult audiences. It was founded in 1948, and since 1984 it permanently resides at Mestni dom (Civic Home), located on Krekov Square. Each year, the theatre, boasting 6 venues with almost 1000 seats, stages 10 premiers and receives around 110.000 visitors. Ljubljana Puppet Theatre pays special attention to the cultural education and care for the Slovenian puppet heritage.
The theatre organizes two biannual festivals: International puppetry festival Puppets (Lutke) and a national platform for cultural fields focusing on children and youth Golden Stick (Zlata paličica). The theatre cooperates with NGOs and Academy of Theatre, Radio, Film and Television on non-formal education projects, workshops and study processes. Apart from widespread international touring, LGL is also part of Unima, Assitej and NEECPA networks. In 2014 the theatre established The Museum of Puppetry, dedicated to research in Slovenian puppetry heritage. In May 2015, in collaboration with the Ljubljana Castle, in a recently restored part of the historical building, we set up the Museum’s Permanent Exhibition entitled Images of Slovenian Puppetry Art, 1910. There is also a small Castle Theatre – the venue for performing the oldest revived Slovenian puppet shows.
Civic Home that hoses the theatre was built in 1899 as a multi-purpose building with a hall and premises for the Fire Brigade, Rescue Station and City Officers. While the building design was conceived by the architects Maurinius and Carol Hinträger, the work, including some necessary alterations, was finished by the local architect Ciril Metod Koch. Civic Home started to take over its function as a theatre building in 1932.
From 1920 to 1924 it was a home of a first semi-professional puppet theatre in our country, i.e. the Slovenian Marionette Theatre, led by the Slovenian puppetry pioneer Milan Klemenčič (1875-1957). His famous performance Doctor Faustus, staged in 1938, keeps fascinating both home and foreign audiences of the Ljubljana Puppet Theatre even today.
BiTeater, a project originally founded by Ljubljana Puppet Theatre (LGL), Kreatorij DIC (a student cultural venue), and the City of Ljubljana, was established in 2013 on the initiative of a group of young theatre directors in Slovenia who did not have access to established stages. The project was a well-received relief in addressing the “closeness” of big institutional theatres. With a modest budget, the creative teams of each show were given free reign to do whatever they wanted to do, with no commercial or insitutional pressure attached. The project has run successfully for three years and fourteen productions.
REFLECTIONS BY KELLIE
This piece is of an aesthetic that is particularly exciting to me: intimate, honest, messy, human. Directed by a very young director, just out of school, and produced under the wing of the BiTeater Project, a project committed to giving young Slovenian directors opportunities to produce their work, it is a testament to the fact that powerful, important theatre can thrive without fancy equipment and big budgets. What makes it successful here is the quality and commitment of the actors performing, as well as the meta-theatricality of the piece itself.
What I mean by this last point is the fact that, at its heart, this piece is not about Hamlet, though it has a relationship to some of the play’s themes. Really, Hamlet is a device that gives these two actors something to offer us together, something they can use to win us over, which then becomes something each can use to win over the other. It is a treasured role for a young male actor, and each secretly, or not so secretly, wants to prove he is capable of performing it best of all. Though the actors’ relationship to Hamlet is specific to the experience of an actor, the desire to succeed and to be loved are very human desires, and they lead the two actors to act in very dark, but very human ways. Over the course of the piece, we see cruel acts, and acts of self effacement, and we understand them to be motivated by jealousy, revenge. It’s notable that these aspects of the human experience are all explored in Hamlet as well. But we seem to get to the core of them in this production, partially because they are explored physically, rather than through text, but also because the situation feels organic to the two actors performing for us: their actions seem to spring from impulses they as individuals could conceivably have. The fact that these two actors could be performing as versions of themselves results in a more raw, human, and honest performance of some of Hamlet’s themes than a straightforward production of the play could have done.
There was also a palpable sense of actual danger throughout the performance: when the two wrestled, it seemed one could truly hurt the other. Actor 1 really did eat dirt, and really did chug beers until he threw up. These actors exposed themselves and one another to extreme degrees in order to come out on top, to prove himself as the best of the two, to the point of abjection. The texture of the dirt mixed with the actors’ sweat, the tightness of the tape, the overwhelming smell of the beers, the dramatic convulsions of Actor 1’s body as poured out of his mouth: all amounted to a powerful sensorial experience. The piece toys with the tenants of some kinds of performance art here, of the Abramovic school. In doing so, it forces us to reckon with our vulnerabilities, tendencies to cruelty, and most notably our culpability as passive observers.
As you can imagine, Hamleting was at times difficult to watch, and I felt implicated; as if my earlier pleasure in their competition, my laughter and mirth, helped to fuel the fire that resulted in their more grotesque attempts. I must see these acts as acts for my benefit, and I felt sorry, and strangely grateful. Through these acts, I witnessed and vicariously experienced their cruelty and intensity, and certain suppressed emotions and desires were expressed and purged in me. I experienced catharsis. Catharsis and empathy: as these actors went to dark places for me, and I went with them, I believe we came out on the other side of it understanding one another a bit better.