Friday, 22 May 2015
Theatre review: Hamlet (Ninagawa Company)
The design's focus on the poverty just outside Elsinore's walls isn't explored a huge amount, although it does feel particularly relevant in the scene where an angry populace attempts to oust Claudius and install Laertes (Shinnosuke Mitsushima) in his place.
The production is largely done in naturalistic Western style, with moves into traditional Japanese theatre styles for the scenes with the Players - the Mousetrap is done in a style inspired by Hinamatsuri, an annual festival of dolls. There are other clever touches: Ninagawa expands on the usual gag of Claudius not being able to tell Rosencrantz (Hiroyuki Mamiya) and Guildenstern (Eiichi Seike) apart, making everyone unsure which is which; and the two toadies obliging by swapping places whenever one of the royals gets it wrong. The director does dispense with any sense of subtlety though in the Oedipal overtones of Hamlet's closet scene with Gertrude (Ran Ohtori.)
Fujiwara plays Hamlet as unpredictable, full of wild mood swings. Taka Takao goes for the most sympathetic reading of Polonius, his chuckling old man one of the most endearing portrayals I've seen. And the very different Japanese take on things leads to a few surprises, like Kenshi Uchida's whispering, feminine Fortinbras, surely no soldier himself but evidently inspiring loyalty in the Norwegian army like some kind of cult leader. A lot of interesting ideas then, but in the overall storytelling Ninagawa's production tends towards the ponderous: I can't say I didn't enjoy it for the most part, but it's at times a slow evening, punctuated by fresh takes on familiar moments.
Hamlet by William Shakespeare in a version by Shoichiro Kawai is booking until the 24th of May at the Barbican Theatre.
Running time: 3 hours 10 minutes including interval.