Sin. Sin. Sin. Hamlet is full of sin. So say The Tiger Lillies and Theatre Republique in their macabre spectacle, The Tiger Lillies Perform Hamlet. It’s opened this week in the recently spruced-up Regal Theatre and is sure to be a favourite of PIAF 2016’s program.
This topsy-turvy adaptation of Shakespeare’s Danish royal bloodbath by director/set designer Martin Tulinius, Tiger Lillies musician Martyn Jacques and Theatre Republique founder Hans Christian Gimbel is a treat for the senses. There are deathly painted faces, black and white clown costumes by Astrid Lynge Ottosen, bizarre instruments, a tilting tilt wall, and performers suspended by ropes. Most of Shakespeare’s dialogue (with the exception of many of the most famous soliloquies and scenes) has been tossed aside in favour of wry commentary sung in falsetto by the show’s chorus of one, Martyn Jacques, with his trusty squeezebox.
Jacques is our emcee, our guide, our omnipresent commentator, a Weimar troubadour. Right from the top, he tells us how deplorable all of the Danish court’s inhabitants are. He doesn’t mince words when describing their terrible characters, calling them whores, c*nts, living bordellos, and so on. His attitude towards their scheming and sinfulness is world-weary, and he sees them as fools to be pitied.
This perspective on the tragedy of Hamlet turns the story on its head, but surprisingly, one core bit of the tragedy is left intact and even amplified: the love story of Hamlet and Ophelia. Ophelia is a mostly dancing role, but here we see a lot more of her inner life through short dream-like sequences placed throughout. By developing the intimate connection between Hamlet and Ophelia, we get a deeper look into her delicate position and her fragile psyche, which helps to solidify a clear path to her demise.
Her death (brought onstage in this version) is beautiful, perilous and sad. Hamlet’s “Last Dance With Mary Jane” moment is heart-breaking. I found the whole treatment of their story to be refreshing, elegant and poignant, and for me, it’s the most important facet of the adaptations that have been done, apart from the troubadour element, obviously.
The cast of players is full of physical and international variety: an ageless Hamlet played by Caspar Phillipson, a delicate and petite Ophelia played by Andreane Leclerc, a rotund, lumbering Claudius played by Zlatko Buric, and an ostrich-like, husky-voiced Gertrude played by Charlotte Engelkes. Together they form a bizarre family circus that could very nearly find its home in a traveling side show.
Tulinius’s set and Adalsteinn Stefansson‘s lighting design are striking. The set is a wall full of multi-level rectangular recesses that act as doors and windows. Because it is suspended, it can be lowered and tilted, imposing itself on the scene to great effect when necessary. Stefansson’s lighting is intricate, putting specials on each rectangle, using side lights to highlight the actors’ forms, and manipulating projections in creative ways.
The music works on you slowly, often sounding like a New Orleans French Quarter funeral procession, other times like a late-night jazz club. For all its slow, lugubrious pacing, time flies by, and we’re at interval in the blink of an eye. A tumbling mix of gallows humour, physical theatre, bold spectacle, infectious music and passionate drama makes this Hamlet an exceptional production.
The Tiger Lillies Perform Hamlet runs until Sunday 21 Feb.
For more information and tickets, visit the Perth Festival website here.