Tuesday, November 23, 2004

To be or not to be?

Last night I went to the theatre with Maarit to see Hamlet. It was great! It was, as I think I mentioned before, a visiting theatre company's production and this was the last time they performed it in Turku.

There were only four actors playing all the roles. One man was both Horatio and Hamlet, one young woman was both Ophelia and the queen (plus a gravedigger), one man was the new king and Polonius. The fourth actor actually did have a bit more consistent role in playing Laertes, although he did double as an actor of the group that comes to the castle to perform according to Hamlet's wishes. Altogether I was surprised how easily they moved from character to another. Or rather, how easy it was to follow the transitions.

Hamlet, as portrayed by Ville Sandqvist, was a very physical character. They had chosen an appearance for him that reminded me somehow of Kenneth Branagh's marvellous performance in the movie Hamlet from a few years back, but Sandqvist's sheer delight of movement was amazing. He had all these little (and big) wiggles and facial expressions that told the audience he was acting crazy and the certain wiggle he did when he spoke about his father's death told the audience exactly how the old king had died. Besides all the wiggling he came very close to the audience all the time, which was very nice. He actually sat in the front row quite a bit, commenting the play from there. It all made the play seem very intimate (it was also a very small stage, so the actors really were brought very near) and I liked the atmosphere a lot. I got to laugh surprisingly many times, considering I was watching one of Shakespeare's most famous dramas.

The staging was very minimalistic. A wooden wall and a wooden plank. A big trunk and a few chairs. And a piano. They had also chosen an interesting way to portray the graveyard. They opened up the huge doors in the back and revealed the large storage hall behind the stage. The gravedigger was picking up skulls very far away from the audience - I liked the "otherness" of seeing the world behind the stage. It cleverly pointed out that behind all this life, there is a graveyard. We may close the doors that lead to it, but it's still there, whether we see it or not. Wow. This is why I love theatre. Such small decisions in staging, costuming and sounds can act as very powerful metaphors.

I did notice they had picked up a Macbethian detail into their version of Hamlet. The queen was constantly trying to rub something off her hands. The blood of the dead king, the proofs of guilt... Once again a detail I liked.

A very enjoyable evening, all in all. I'm eagerly waiting for Kansallisteatteri's (National Theatre) King Lear. It will open in March and it'll have Esko Salminen in the leading role. He's one of my absolute favorites in the Finnish world of theatre. I saw him in the Tempest quite some years ago and was totally blown away by the pure presence he has on stage. I think I have to book my tickets pretty soon, because I don't think I'm the only one who thinks that'll be a must-see.

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