Cult British musical trio took the Shakespearean classic to an eccentric place last week
Hamlet is definitely not for the weak-hearted. That much was clear on opening night when the United Kingdom-based group, dubbed the Tiger Lillies, performed their version of Shakespeare’s monumental tragedy at the Place des Arts.
The play masterfully juxtaposes sanity with madness, reality with reverie, and love with hatred. Quick synopsis: Hamlet is a baffled young prince who is furious that his mother has married his deceased father’s brother. Marred by madness, Hamlet’s world slowly spins out of control as everyone he loves, including his beloved Ophelia, dies. It’s a bloodbath, a reflection on mortality, as well as a contemplation of love, faithfulness and grief.
Balancing circus acts with video projections, the evening was a visual extravaganza. Director Martin Tulinius did it yet again, wowing the audience with breathtaking scenes. Nanna Finding Koppel playing Ophelia outdid herself physically. Take, for instance, Ophelia’s love dance, in which she threw herself against Hamlet before swinging effortlessly on a suspended wire, her legs akimbo, and then tiptoeing gracefully on a bed frame. As for the giant puppet performances, they were definitively memorable, if a little creepy.
But that’s what the Tiger Lillies do so well: interpret a story in a delightfully macabre, sombre, tongue-in-cheek way. The makeup and music were well used to create a decidedly punk cabaret atmosphere. The characters were grotesquely arrayed: Polonius resembled a giant rat, while Gertrude’s dress looked decidedly like a snakeskin. With the Tiger Lillies, you feel like you are swinging along in ‘30s Berlin.
Caspar Phillipson played a convincing Hamlet, giving great gusto to the character’s famous lines, such as “get thee to a nunnery” when chastising Ophelia. He connected with the audience, often reaching out and playing theatrically with certain words. The ever classic soliloquy “to be or not to be” sounded neither clichéd nor boring: high scores on all counts.
What this production excelled at the most was investigating the psychological waters that Hamlet navigates. Is the prince merely playing mad or is he so disturbed by his father’s death and mother’s remarriage that he confuses reason with emotion? The play depicts Hamlet as an endearing character who is struggling to find meaning in his life and in those around him. You really feel for Hamlet when, kneeling, he grasps for his mother’s dress like a child and begs for understanding. Hamlet is shown in all his tempers: as a philosopher, a son, a lover, and ultimately as a man.
But certain elements of the event needed some definite tweaking. For those untrained Shakespeare aficionados out there, the first part of the play was incomprehensible. You basically needed a step-by-step comprehensive guide to Hamlet to follow the storyline if you had never seen the play before. The cabaret aspect of the performance was overused and kept audience members yawning throughout yet another tedious, Eastern German-style song. And the ever-present band, dressed in rabbit face masks, lent itself rather awkwardly to the scenes. It got monotonous when Jacques, the internal narrator, told the story musically in his tinny voice accompanied by his accordion. The final lines “There’s nothing wrong/there’s nothing right/it’s just a desolation song,” sung by a desolate Jacques, were a poor finale to such a breathtaking and daring production.
In the end, with both its strong and weak points, the Tiger Lillies gave a somewhat curious interpretation of a classic that definitely could uses a bit of novelty.
For more information on the Tiger Lillies, visit tigerlillies.com.