9 Hamlets. 3 Ophelias. 10 floors of a library. This performance of Hamlet could have gone horribly wrong. Luckily, it didn’t. It was a great success. This adaptation of Hamlet – Hamlets is the culmination of a theatre research project by director Daniel Tyler as part of his PhD research into the adaption of well-known texts today. The production by Birmingham Repertory Theatre’s youth theatre, The Young REP and Hôtel Teatro offered a completely different approach to Hamlet. Focusing on the fact that it has been performed for hundreds of years in different styles and cultures. Each Hamlet brough their own unique take, whether that was playing on his dark side, speaking in a different language or acting according to a certain time period. This and the setting of the Library of Birmingham created ‘The Hamlets Archive’ showcasing different performances from around the world across the decades.
The performance began at the 10th floor and progressed down through the library, this aimed to show the characters dissension into madness. The final scene ended in the lobby where the play began. Each member of the audience had a slightly different experience of the play depending upon which room they were led into by an Archivist, who were essentially the tour guides for the evening. The 18 different versions of ‘To be, or not to be’ in the rotunda of the library was a highlight. The audience wandered freely listening to snapshots from each speech. It featured the speech in different languages, a live translation in Ndebele and even the audience getting involved in reciting it. This allowed the audience to get involved and properly experience the play with all barriers between actors and audience broken down.
The different settings were very atmospheric. The scene where Hamlet’s father’s ghost appears was done on the balcony. In the dark and the wind with the backdrop of night-time Birmingham it added to the mystery and wonder of the scene. As the Hamlets ran out the door the audience were urged to follow them onto the next location.
Although the setting was clearly a vital part of this unique performance a special mention must go to the Young REP. Each actor gave a convincing and enthralling performance, bringing something different and personal to his or her role. Of course, all the actors whether that be from The Young REP or Hôtel Teatro must be praised for delivering believable and unique performances surrounded by what could’ve been chaos.
Hope Bolger went along and spoke to Katherine Allen, one of the Hamlets as well as Michael Barry who played Lord Polonius.
The show is part of The Young REP festival 2015: The Manifesto. Where the group present nine plays that tackle issues surrounding education, culture, equality and justice fro 2½ weeks until 31 March.