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August 13, 2013 5:27 pm
For a Festival themed around the relationships between art and technology, The Wooster Group were pretty much a shoo-in as featured participants. Their take on Hamlet (which premiered in 2006 in Barcelona) is a re-creation of John Gielgud’s 1964 production starring Richard Burton, performed against the backdrop of a rediscovered film/video recording of same. Except it’s been re-edited to regularise the verse speaking. And some bits are fast forwarded. And for some scenes the actors have been digitally removed from the image. And for some others they use different film versions (Bill Murray’s Polonius from 2000, Charlton Heston’s Player King from 1996). And once or twice Casey Spooner as Laertes bursts into song from his musical incarnation Fischerspooner.
For all that, this is comparatively restrained in Woosterian terms; it is not their more usual approach of deconstruction so much as a painstaking re-construction. Actors skip and twitch to match the new edits; Scott Shepherd both plays Hamlet and moves the sparse furniture around as camera angles change; vocal timbre is manipulated to match the changes in tone of the recording; and, to invoke a contemporary buzz-term, the greatest moment of “liveness” in Monday evening’s performance came when a wheeled throne accidentally threatened to roll offstage into the audience.
The point of the project, I think, is to emphasise how productions of such works now inevitably reverberate against previous versions, even those in different media. This is in one sense a truism, but in another much more dubious. I am unconvinced that a live audience, even one relatively well versed in renditions of a particular piece, will in the moment of watching be comparing what is before them with a mental dossier rather than simply taking it in, perhaps for later consideration. This is even more so the case when the “reference” version is, as here, one of notable reputation but at most vestigial memory; this is the aspect that drew the Group to select this particular Hamlet yet it makes this version less rather than more illustrative of their thesis.
Nevertheless, as Burton fades in and out of view during one of the great soliloquies, it is impossible to deny that the ramparts of Elsinore are regularly trodden by more ghosts than just the one Shakespeare wrote.
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