Hamlet, The Globe, 3 June 2012
The last Globe to Globe production was by no means the least of Shakespeare’s plays. The honour of closing the festival fell to Meno Fortas who brought us their Lithuanian Hamlet.
First performed in 1997, the original was four hours long. So this truncated two-hour version perhaps did not show the production at its best. But even the long version did not include Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, who were also absent here.
The stage was littered with rusting ironwork and suspended above was the large blade of a circular saw.
In the first scene, Barnardo and Marcellus saw an invisible ghost and looked up towards the saw, striking at the thin air around it.
The Danish court had Claudius (Vytautas Rumšas) and Gertrude (Dalia Zykuvienė-Storyk) sat on chairs either side of the stage, each with a servant crouched next to them like a dog. Hamlet (Andrius Mamontovas) and Laertes (Kęstutis Jakštas) stood in the middle, watching the grotesque Claudius, an odd man who laughed coarsely through gold teeth.
Laertes sat on his case, which looked like the keel of an upturned boat to lecture his sister Ophelia (Viktorija Kyodytė). She smoked a pipe and clapped vigorously with her hands when saying farewell to him.
The use of stage properties shifted to another level during Hamlet’s encounter with the ghost of his father.
The Ghost (Vidas Petkevičius) sat behind a screen and took his coat off. Hamlet was blindfolded while the Ghost placed his coat on top of the saw blade suspended above the stage. Hamlet peeped through and then removed his blindfold to catch sight of his father’s ghost for the first time.
The Ghost prompted his son to revenge his murder by clasping Hamlet’s hands into fists and kissed them in blessing.
A large block of ice was produced on which Hamlet tentatively stepped with his bare feet. But the real coup de théâtre came when the block of ice was smashed into pieces to reveal a dagger inside. As if to demonstrate his desire to use the weapon, Hamlet drew the dagger along the tip of his tongue with relish.
Hamlet’s dalliance with Ophelia saw them rolling around on the ground. She began to flap like a fish out of water, at which point Hamlet tried to revive her. But he was overkeen in his affections, causing Ophelia to tell Polonius (Povilas Budrys) what had happened.
The Players (Margarita Žiemelytė, Algirda Dainavičius & Vaidas Vilius) entered rolling on logs like they were a circus act. They chattered like birds as if they were tame caged creatures. Hamlet placed some black dust on a sheet of paper and blew the dust into their faces, symbolising the lines he wrote to amend their play into The Mousetrap. His inspiration became in this instance an exhalation.
When the dumbshow was acted out, the entire court joined in. Their faces were smeared with black dust marking their inclusion in the cast and by extension their absorption of Hamlet’s inspiring exhalation. The Player King was swapped at the last minute so that the Ghost took his place, underlining the subterfuge.
The pressure on Hamlet caused by the king’s anger against him was symbolised by Hamlet crouching sideways inside a metal box in which a pressure plate bore down on him.
This looked like a clumsy and heavy-handed way of conveying the character’s situation. Original stagings can sometimes be enlightening, but this was lacking in subtlety.
The production’s unfortunately tendency towards ponderous, unsubtle symbolism was taken up a gear at the start of the second half.
Hamlet was reminded of his father and his need to revenge his death, not by a visitation during his confrontation with Gertrude, but by the arrival of his father standing upright on a wheeled platform, from which height he attached an candelabra made of ice to the saw blade still hanging above the stage.
Vidas Petkevičius visibly shuddered as the tall trolley lurched across the boards of the Globe stage. Far from looking ghostly and meaningful, this moment seemed more like an impromptu piece of repair work.
Hamlet delivered his “To be or not to be” speech looking up at the ice chandelier, which at least meant that his words were focused on an object that had a direction connection with the revenge he was contemplating.
Claudius sat a table with a very large glass of liquid and ice as he contemplated his crimes. In his anger he smashed the ice chandelier. This gesture decoded: an object intended to focus Hamlet’s thoughts on his father was attacked by the usurper because it was somehow also perceptible to him as a reminder of his murderous rise to power.
Hamlet crept up behind Claudius with a large glass of liquid, and began to pour its contents onto his back. But after this slight trickle, he decided not to press home his attack and withdrew.
Instead he took the liquid and poured some of it onto a cloth to use like chloroform to abduct and interrogate Gertrude.
Polonius’ killing was a truly bizarre sequence in which he hid inside a trunk from which he extended a breathing tube. Hamlet then dunked the end of the tube in a glass containing poison, similar to that he had almost used against Claudius. Polonius breathed through the tube producing bubbles in the liquid. After the stream of bubbles had stopped, Hamlet turned the trunk upside down and then opened it to reveal Polonius dead.
After Hamlet was dispatched to England, Laertes returned to Denmark, and was soon recruited by Claudius to murder the swiftly returning prince. Claudius strapped foils to Laertes’ arms so that they became extensions of his limbs.
Ophelia descended into madness, again clapping her hands, and was applauded for so doing by the entire court who gathered to watch her.
Hamlet and Horatio (Simonas Dovidauskas) appeared just before Ophelia’s burial. Hamlet was shocked to discover Yorick’s skull, which was represented by a coconut. The coconut ended up in Gertrude’s lap. Hamlet addressed it in that location: a psychologically suggestive piece of staging.
The fight between Laertes and Hamlet saw the pair initially behind a small black sheet. They then climbed over the top and slid down the front as if descending into the black innards of the grave.
The final duel had Hamlet and Laertes holding foils while a flute played a tune. Both faced the audience and swished their foils back and forth in the air as if accompanying the tune. When Hamlet fell, he rapped on a drum. After Hamlet declared that the rest was silence, the Ghost appeared as Fortinbras to close Hamlet’s eyes.
This particular performance was the last of the run of the production and consequently the last performance of Globe to Globe. After taking several curtain calls, Andrius Mamontovas held his hand into a loose fist and flexed his fingers to make it resemble a beating heart, which he then kissed and threw at the audience. This was a touching image on which to end the festival.
While the production managed to tell the story of Hamlet, the use of visual imagery to convey meaning tended to spell things out with too little subtlety. The characters tended to take second place to the metalwork.
But looked at another way, this feature worked to the advantage of non-Lithuanian speakers because it made apparent what would normally only be suggested by the language, which for many in the audience was opaque.