Reviews – Patricia Churchill

Thank you for introducing me to Hamletmachine and Heiner Müller. I can’t believe I didn’t know about the play.
As I’ve told you, in the early seventies I was introduced to avant garde theatre through the early works of Robert Wilson and Richard Foreman. I love the puzzle of not knowing what’s going on, following threads I do recognize through rich and dreamlike imagery, so your production is totally to my taste.

First of all, the costumes are extraordinary: Hamlet’s oversized humpty-dumpty brain/crown and the chorus’ skeletons with alien craniums are memorable. Ophelia’s costume with the slashes that open in her flesh is extraordinary, as is her final red sweater dress. The black-winged dancer with the reverse human mask was startling. Most important is the very particular movement created through your work with the young actors to accommodate the mechanics of the costumes. This was fantastic and a huge part of the impact of the production.

The contrast with the stationary Gertrude pinioned to her tree was good and my interpretation of her bodice being the split bottom of a capacious alligator handbag was so right, a purse covering the breasts of the mother/womb/source of milk/punisher. I felt that on a proscenium stage where the audience could see the entire stage her position made sense, but for the space at Dorothy Somerset, looking up to her took me too far out of the play space. It was a strain.

As was the lighting, or lack of. The costumes with their LED lights, brilliantly placed and deployed, certainly made lighting a challenge. It was a strain throughout to see the action. The balance between the costume lights and the stage lighting was not achieved. The stage lighting could have helped so much to tell the story, to separate the “acts”, to add to the rhythm of the entire piece. It is a shame that you didn’t have support in that area, because what were powerful and iconic action/tableaus would be left to disintegrate in the muddy black hole of the dimly lit stage as the actors dropped their “masks” and left the playing area. If you can’t get the lighting you need, I would suggest directing those transitions as carefully as you direct the acted scenes. An example of this is after the moving dance with parasol between Hamlet and the black-winged creature; the dance over, the characters just drop it and move to the back of the stage. It’s a let down.

I have come to the opinion that you were lucky that the set designer was too limited to do anything but a few chalk marks on the black wall. With the very elaborate costumes, brilliant props (Hamlet’s cut out girl persona gets stars!), Gertrude’s tree, the projections, and the overwhelming score by Trautonia (that deserves a whole other letter!) you had so much going on that an elaborate set might have really created a kind of log jam. You know how in fashion they say if you have an elaborate smokey eye, leave the lip natural, and vice versa, red lips need a natural eye. It’s something like that. The minimal stage was good to showcase the other thoroughly worked elements. But that takes us back to the lighting, which is key.

The interruption of the play that comes in the fourth part is not my favorite. It feels dated. For me it is a vestige of the sixties. Next would be audience participation or nudity! What is the purpose of that scene for you? Is there another way of getting at that?

The “story” of Hamletmachine that I connected with most was the female gender struggle: the brutal kind of hatred a son can have for his mother and hence for all womankind and a woman’s self hatred. I was reminded how brutal Hamlet (the play) really is. It is not just the story of a weak and melancholic boy, which story you also told well. Honestly, I did not follow who the chorus was at different times and it didn’t really matter to me, they were very interesting to watch, but when Ophelia took the stage you had my full attention. The last image of her swathed in her blue bandages and her halo illuminating her face recalled Frida Kahlo’s work which is so aligned with all of this material.

Brava, Ines. And Bravo to your young cast.
Please find someone to continue developing this work with you.

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