Aifric Ni Ruairc gets reacquainted with Hamlet and tries to keep up with the Wooster Group’s inventive interpretation

Everybody knows Hamlet; maybe you read it for the Junior Cert, hospital maybe you desperately memorized it for the Leaving. If you’re a drama student you’ve probably dissected it, if you’re an English student you’ve probably referenced it in a thousand essays, and if you’re a Psychology student you’ve probably pondered whether Hamlet really did fancy his mammy…

With so much written about Hamlet and so many past productions and films is there any new ground to be covered in Hamlet? Can theatre even compete with film anymore? Is there even any point in re-staging the play?

The Wooster Group of New York, pioneers of innovative contemporary theatre, attempt to answer these question as they bring director Elizabeth LeCompte’s very different take on Hamlet to Dublin. Hamlet has seeped into our cultural lexicon and The Wooster Group directly address the history, reverence and past-productions of the play in their production.

If you’ve never read or seen Hamlet, you’re going to find this production of the play confusing. In fact, even if you have read and seen it, you’ll still be confused. Using multiple onstage televisions and projections The Wooster Group attempt to re-enact a 1964 Broadway production of Hamlet producing something completely new in the process. The production finds itself limited by both its own task –the act of re-enacting a previous production– and by its own agenda. By questioning the importance of multiple productions of the same text and even the relevance of live theatre LeCompte’s production seems to want to render itself redundant.

However the play is fast and captivating, pushing the boundaries of the text. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are interchangeable; the actors playing them steal one another’s lines seemingly as confounded as the audience when it comes to differentiating the two men. Time is literally “out of joint” here as characters suddenly lurch quickly forward or backwards through the text. When Hamlet is bored with the play he simply calls out “fast-forward”. Hamlet himself is central to the whole production, orchestrating those around him, both actors and technical staff. As such this production becomes more of a play within a play. The actors onstage as manipulated by Hamlet as the players during “The Mousetrap”.

The main problem with this production is that although Hamlet is famous (even more famous than Cheryl Cole was at the height of her X-factor glory), not everybody can be expected to know the text. Those who haven’t encountered the play before certainly won’t be able to follow this production.