Putin Critic and writer Boris Akunin writes Hamlet. A Version, directed by Irina Gachechiladze and translated by Ileana Alexandra Orlich. On now at Theatre at St. Clements.
In this markedly unique interpretation of the classic “Hamlet”, “Russia’s JK Rowling” Boris Akunin took it upon himself to re-write the iconic tale with an apparently more plausible spin- one that calls to question the implications of ghosts and the most effective mechanisms by which old money can make its exit.
The witty and sharp language comes from a writer particularly sensitive to political upheavals and crime: Akunin was a vocal dissident of the Russian government and hasn’t been in Russia since 2014. Not unlike other Russia artists such as the conceptualists Ilya and Emilia, who report last stepping in Russia in 2004.
Stage is suitably spare but set off by an elegant curtain that forms a semi-circle as wide as the stage itself. This curtain allows for built rooms to exist via Michael Ivanishvili’s projections as well as airy entry and exit from all sides, tastefully and occasionally coldly-illuminated at the direction of Isabella Byrd. Hamlet. A Version doesn’t shy away from technological implication either, the effect to be decided by the viewer. Subtle features include a cast of the crowd projected onto the backdrop or a flowering motif as the King and Queen make love sometimes enhance but occasionally detract from the scene.
That said, the overly-flowery language of the time suits this environment unexpectedly well- particularly the Queen (played by Joy Hermalyn to delightful doting and reflective effect) who repeatedly diagnoses various people in the kingdom with rather obvious ailments, surrounded by flickering lights or slashed flags.
Among the most effective performances: Alan Ross, as Polonius, offering a responsible and measured positioning of one of the most fateful positions in Shakespeare. Claire Brownell (39 Steps) offering a delicate execution of Ophelia- offering a somewhat over-choreographed performance- suitable because it accents just how shaken Ophelia really was. Guildenstern and Rosencrantz (Michael Propster and Owen Scott, respectively) were perhaps subject to the most scrutiny by the general public, as the two characters are some of the most memorable in all of Shakespeare. Both offer compelling and particularly elastic performances, especially in playing as the actors in the play before the king. Their performance is hilariously melodramatic and awkward, but charming, nonetheless.
But in consulting Matt Gabbard, actor at The Lost Colony, he suggested that “Hamlet is the absolute pinnacle of theatrical performance for the actor playing Hamlet”. How does Matt Weiss hold up? Rather well, but occasionally oppressively drunken and at the moment of the high-tech ghost/digital apparition (the most jarring portion of the play for reasons you must see), his reaction is overwhelming and doesn’t match the glitchy onslaught of visuals cast on the curtains.
It’s hard to place a year or space for Hamlet. A Version, but no matter. The work will leave you chuckling and considering Hamlet in a technocratic light save for the throwaway joke toward the end- you’ll know it strikes. The end seemed a little too tidy- but maybe that’s exactly the way it should be: a job well done.
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