Dramaten’s Hamlet

What happens if you cut the role of Horatio from Hamlet and give most of his lines to Ophelia?

This is the main idea behind a production of Hamlet being staged by Sweden’s Royal Dramatic Theatre (Dramaten) in Stockholm in January. It will be Dramaten’s contribution to global commemorations of Shakespeare 400.

Director Jenny Andreasson previously focused her creative attentions on plays written by historically neglected female dramatists such as Françoise Sagan and Lillian Hellman.

A sympathy for neglected women playwrights has translated easily into fellow-feeling for Ophelia, the marginalised woman of Elsinore whose destiny as a character is to be obedient, then exploited, then mad, then dead.

In a Q&A on Dramaten’s website Andreasson has described how she first got to grips with the play by realising that she could make something new out of Ophelia and Hamlet’s relationship, avoiding the usual cliché of Ophelia as victim to create a more equal relationship.

Whereas other directors, most recently Lyndsey Turner at the Barbican, have sought to make Ophelia less of a doormat by tweaking her character within the framework of the given text, this production will take the bold step of cutting Hamlet’s best friend Horatio and giving the bulk of his lines to Ophelia so that she effectively becomes his closest associate as well as lover.

A recent newspaper report on the start of rehearsals gave a taste of the finished result. The actors in the principal roles, Hamadi Khemiri as Hamlet and Nina Zanjani as Ophelia, read aloud from what was described as act one, scene one of the new production.

Translated back into English from the production’s Swedish they share the following exchange:

I think I saw him yesternight.
Saw? Who?
Your father.
You saw my father?
Season your admiration for a while
With an attent ear till I may deliver
This marvel to you.
For God’s love, let me hear!

Jenny Andreasson said in the same article that this reallocation of lines from Horatio to Ophelia had produced interesting results:

“In the scenes where she appears innocent, she instead turns out to be a very aware person. So when I began adapting the play a different Hamlet and a different Ophelia emerged.”

The travelling players who visit Elsinore will be a feminist theatre group, which suggests some rewriting or adaptation of The Mousetrap.

Part of Hamlet’s struggle will be about deciding what kind of a man he wants to be.

So far, so interesting.

Although no further specifics about the production have been provided so far ahead of its premiere in Stockholm on 16 January, it is possible to extrapolate some of the possibilities that the director’s basic premise makes possible.

In general terms, having Ophelia as Hamlet’s confidante and lover in the early part of the play must mean that their eventual falling out – Hamlet will eventually kill her father – will appear to have an even greater effect on them both because the intensity and closeness of their relationship will be portrayed on stage rather than merely described.

This also means that in the later part of the play, after Ophelia’s death, Hamlet’s isolation will be starker as he will have no Horatio to confide in, his final moments all the bleaker as no one will be there to comfort him.

Finally an Ophelia that a 21st century audience can really identify with?

I will be travelling to Stockholm in February to see three performances of the production and will report back on what actually happens.

Update: 22 December 2015

In a recent Dramaten press release, Jenny Andreasson makes these additional comments on her version of the play:

I see Hamlet and Ophelia as reflections of each other, more closely bound to each other than normal. Despite different starting points they do bear similarities throughout the story in their complex relationships with their fathers, their attempts at revolt and madness. Even the relationship between Queen Gertrude and the new king Claudius looks different than normal, since they share power, at least to begin with…

Update: 8 January 2016

The entire run of this production has been cancelled due to the director being ill. Nothing has been confirmed regarding a possible future continuation of the project.

dramaten hamlet
Nina Zanjani (Ophelia) and Hamadi Khemiri (Hamlet)

RSC 2012 season for the World Shakespeare Festival

Pericles, The Comedy of Errors, The Tempest and Twelfth Night are to be staged by the RSC during 2012 under the banner “What country, friends, is this?” as part of the World Shakespeare Festival.

The season title was announced last year, but nothing was said about the actual productions involved apart from a cryptic statement that they would form “a cycle of plays where Shakespeare shipwrecks his protagonists on hostile shores and brave new worlds.”

With the full programme launch for the World Shakespeare Festival not due until September, it seemed we would have to wait until then to get any details.

However, tucked away at the bottom of the 21 June press release about the London 2012 Festival – the finale to the Cultural Olympiad of which the World Shakespeare Festival is a part – lurks a list of four plays under the season title:

What country, friends, is this?: Royal Shakespeare Company, Stratford-upon-Avon and London:
o    Pericles
o    The Comedy of Errors
o    The Tempest
o    Twelfth Night

This appears to be LOCOG getting ahead of the RSC’s publicity machine, releasing their 2012 season line-up before any official RSC press release on the subject.

Update 6 September 2011:

http://www.worldshakespearefestival.org.uk went live today with full details, confirming the “What Country, Friends, Is This” line-up.

Jonathan Slinger will be taking on the roles of Malvolio and Prospero in these productions.

Link to the full festival brochure.


Must have seemed like a good idea at the time. They needed to sell tickets for an obscure play few people have heard of. Royal Wedding weekend was coming up. Eureka! Let’s celebrate the union of Wills ‘n’ Kate by offering cut price tickets to the play!

And the theatrical work in question, Cardenio, contains a wedding scene. How appropriate!

Oops! The wedding in Cardenio is forced: the unhappily matched bride goes into the play’s pivotal scene equipped with a knife planning to kill herself.  Her true love turns up and starts a fight with the cad her father is trying to marry her off to, at which point she faints before getting a chance to commit suicide.

All in all, a slightly incongruous piece of theatre to market in celebration of a royal wedding. Unless, that is, they know something we don’t…

Macbeth with Jonathan Slinger to reopen the Royal Shakespeare Theatre

An interview given by RSC artistic director Michael Boyd has confirmed that Jonathan Slinger is to star in a production of Macbeth that Boyd is directing as the first offering in the company’s 50th birthday season at the rebuilt Royal Shakespeare Theatre.

Slinger’s series of memorable performances in the RSC History Cycle, topped by his monstrous Richard III, left no doubt that his career was one to watch very closely.

So it has come to pass that he has been handed the ultimate bad guy role in a landmark production that should set the tone for the RSC’s onward journey.

But what we will be seeing next April will not be a shot in the dark with a new space being road tested by ingénues finding their way around an unfamiliar structure.

More than four years of experience has already been gained from work at the Courtyard, the prototype thrust stage theatre from which the new RST has effectively been cloned.

This means that the first production designed for the RSC’s brave new world will be in fact the latest iteration of a formula that has already been garnering praise for quite some time.

Slinger himself was there right at the start of the Courtyard period and has accumulated considerable experience of the new thrust stage environment from his History Cycle work.

The launch of the new Royal Shakespeare Theatre with a rip-roaring epic like Macbeth; an actor cast in the title role who has already thrilled theatregoers gathered around a thrust stage with his scarily powerful interpretations of Shakespearean villains; and this in a space designed to promote an intimate relationship between cast and audience: it all looks like a grand way to begin a new era.

Fresh snow at the Globe

Shakespeare’s Globe to present Much Ado and All’s Well in 2011

The Globe 2011 season announced today contains only two main house Shakespeare productions: the much-loved, crowd-pleasing comedy workhorse Much Ado About Nothing and the unjustly neglected rarity All’s Well That Ends Well.

Much Ado is so strong a piece it could be made out of girders. The merry war between the principal characters is robust enough a story to flourish under any conditions.

All’s Well, on the other hand, has not enjoyed the same degree of popularity and exposure. But this lack of familiarity can be turned to advantage and used to explore the play without the encumbrance of expectation.

If staging Hamlet is like treading a worn, muddy path with the footsteps of those that have gone before all too visible, then putting on All’s Well is like stepping out into crisp, fresh snow.

The 2009 National Theatre production chose to highlight the fairytale element in the play and contrast it with the adult reality of relationships. This created a very modern and cynical subversion of the fairytale format.

The precise approach of the Globe production obviously remains to be seen. But it’s to be hoped that the final moment of the NT production, with Helena and Bertram looking at each other aghast at their awkwardly contrived and ill-starred marriage, will point the director towards an exploration of the play’s hidden depths, perhaps to find other modern resonances.

Staging these two plays in the same season is also a great opportunity for comparison and contrast. Highlighting in particular how All’s Well differs from its more familiar stable mate should throw those differences into sharper relief, providing us with an even clearer view of what this neglected gem has to offer.