Review: Hamlet

The festival opens with the Schaubuhne’s riveting and dangerous production of Hamlet. Though this be madness, yet there’s method in it



Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, Dublin


Has Hamlet finally lost it completely?

Standing sullen in an expanse of graveyard, as his father is laid to rest none too peacefully, Hamlet’s mind already seems as disordered as this rivetingly raw production from the Schaubuhne. It opens, for instance, with Hamlet’s meditation on death, “To be, or not to be”, as Elsinore is revealed through his eyes – or, more precisely, through his video camera – a nightmarish, venal court where hypocrites crack beer cans and feast on dirt.

It is nonetheless keen to keep up appearances, after the suspicious death of Old Hamlet and the o’erhasty marriage of Claudius (Urs Jucker) and Gertrude (Jenny König). Here, Lars Eidinger’s schlubby, sensitive Hamlet is both a mess and a menace, barking out his asides for everyone to hear and nose-diving into his father grave. In fact, director Thomas Ostermeier begins things at such a high pitch of hysteria, from a tragi-slapstick gravedigger sequence to a maniacal Polonius (Robert Beyer) hectoring Ophelia into submission, that you wonder where the play has left to go.

The answer, in Eidinger’s amusing, alarming, and finally astounding performance, is ever outwards. His filial avenger may affect Tourette’s syndrome, spitting profanities from beneath an inverted crown, but Eidinger is still more unpredictable. Given remarkably free rein to improvise, he departs from Marius von Mayenburg’s already earthy adaptation to addresses audience members directly, djing, cajoling, calling for houselights, killing the music, filling his mouth with dirt (and some of his co-stars). It is so reckless, so subversive, that the play routinely threatens to come off the rails. This could really be the most dangerous Hamlet ever.

Whether you find that electrifying or merely shocking, it makes it hard to recognise Eidinger’s prince as a poet and philosopher. Instead he is a constant performer and, like Shakespeare’s play, the production is jittery with self-awareness, and textual instability, as likely to reference Heiner Müller’s Hamletmachine as Germany’s 1980 Eurovision entry, Theater (there is method in’t) . Six performers share various roles, appropriate doubling acts in this play of multiplicities, and few come more charged than Jenny König, slipping between Gertrude and Ophelia.

In every sense, though, the show belongs to Eidinger, and just when the comedy of his act begins to grate, he reveals something tragically corrosive, no longer able to distinguish between theatre and reality, madness and lucidity, as though the performance has swallowed him whole. There have been no shortages of Hamlets at the Dublin Theatre Festival, yet this fantastically chaotic, luridly trashy, densely considered interpretation brings a whole new way of seeing it.

Until Sep 27