Yukio Ninagawa is an internationally celebrated Japanese director with a passion for Shakespeare and a history of innovative productions.
All of which despite speaking no English, mastering some of the trickiest plays in the English language with only an interpreter? Blimey! With a reputation for strong creative set design and staging concepts, it was with interest we went to see his abridged version of Hamlet which opened at the Theatre Royal on Tuesday.
Yukio's is an interesting take on the worlds most famous play, and worth going to see just for Michael Maloney's intelligent performance if you take nothing else away with you. You can be as pretentious as you like about Shakespeare and the nuances of performance, but Hamlet is a Tudor blockbuster of a play - with Shakespeare's highest body count! Featuring murder, treachery, comedy and madness, the plot twists and turns with fantastic depth of human emotion.
If you have never seen Hamlet before and are new to the play this may not be ideal first time view; daggers and doublets this is not. The continuity is non-specific with a changing mixture of influences ranging from touches of Samurai to the modern, which doesn't leave you with one particular feel visually but is full of intense symbolism. The stage innovation is certainly different with a minimal look consisting of illuminated strands of barbed wire and bare swinging light bulbs to an all black set of nine doors. Good use of lighting and dry ice with the simple set creates an engaging atmosphere without being distracting, compared to Yukios' often outrageously bold design statements it is quite subtle and subdued.
The performances of the actors seems to reflect a high level of self direction; perhaps a factor of the language barrier. Michael Maloney's performance was great to watch with an intuitive and fevered rapport with the audience, his changes of mood and freedom of emotion at great pace was captivating. The other performance which particularly stands out was Robert Demeger's Polonius, comic and lugubrious, his bureaucratic manner was enhanced by the fact like that his sound and timing was so like Terry Jones it was uncanny!
If you are a dyed in the wool Shakespeare traditionalist this is not for you, if you want something unusual with strong visual imagery then take a seat.
Hamlet is on at the Royal Centre until Saturday the 4th December