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MUSICAL

Review: A rotten portrait of the Danish kingdom

"To be or not to be?" sings a mortally wounded Hamlet, accompanied by the gentle strums of an acoustic guitar. Hamlet has just slain his father and dead girlfriend's brother, but at death's door he turns regretful. Writhing through the courtyard, he gasps with all the melodrama in Denmark, "To be or not to be? I want to live! I want to be!"
Thus ends the Czech musical Hamlet, which comes to Bratislava's Nová Scéna after a successful two-year run in Prague, where nearly all of its 80 performances sold out in advance. Written and composed by Czech Janek Ledecký, the show avoids the complex, burning emotions that made the Shakespeare original world-famous, and plays more like a series of rock videos set in ancient Denmark.
The curtain opens with Ophelia and her friend Helena signing "Don't Waste Your Time", a light piano duet about the wonders of love. The two beauties seem happy just to be alive, and to have men, Hamlet and Horatio respectively, to inhabit their daydreams.


Melodramatic acting and a poorly selected mish-mash of musical styles kill this Hamlet before the wine does.
photo: Courtesy Nová Scéna

Hamlet

Where: Nová Scéna, Kollárovo nám. 20, box office: 52 92 11 39
When: March 16, 17, 18, 30, 31 and throughout April
Rating: 2 out of 10
Tickets: 199 - 399 Slovak crowns

"To be or not to be?" sings a mortally wounded Hamlet, accompanied by the gentle strums of an acoustic guitar. Hamlet has just slain his father and dead girlfriend's brother, but at death's door he turns regretful. Writhing through the courtyard, he gasps with all the melodrama in Denmark, "To be or not to be? I want to live! I want to be!"

Thus ends the Czech musical Hamlet, which comes to Bratislava's Nová Scéna after a successful two-year run in Prague, where nearly all of its 80 performances sold out in advance. Written and composed by Czech Janek Ledecký, the show avoids the complex, burning emotions that made the Shakespeare original world-famous, and plays more like a series of rock videos set in ancient Denmark.

The curtain opens with Ophelia and her friend Helena signing "Don't Waste Your Time", a light piano duet about the wonders of love. The two beauties seem happy just to be alive, and to have men, Hamlet and Horatio respectively, to inhabit their daydreams.

An abrupt, funky rock number follows, with Ophelia's father Polonius shepherding a flock of jazz dancers; but the mood is dashed by big brother Laertes, who explains to Ophelia that Hamlet is not right for her, in a new-age ballad of synthesised violins and flutes.

Hamlet continues in this fashion, shuffling through an assortment of music that only hints at the original play's passion. Hamlet's tempestuous love/hate, filial/sexual feelings for his mother are represented by power chords on an electric guitar. King Claudius's lechery is conveyed by any music - rock, Latino - that grooves. Gloomy undertones and chanting foretell the arrival of Hamlet's angry ghost father.

The effect of juxtaposing these musical styles is often ridiculous. In one sequence the ghost of Hamlet's father interrupts Hamlet and Ophelia (gentle love ballad) to explain he was murdered (murky synthesiser undertones), prompting Hamlet to throw a fit (rock power chords) in the courtyard.

At the February 24 showing at Nová Scéna, Dušan Cinkota portrayed Hamlet as an hysteric forever on the verge of tears. The main female characters, Ophelia and Hamlet's mother Gertrude, played by Lucia Šoralová and Sisa Sklovská respectively, seemed to lose their handle on their roles in the throes of song, smiling and gesticulating as though they were competing in a beauty pageant.

In fairness, the script sometimes worked against the actors' efforts to create a mood. When Sklovská as Gertrude marches into the castle and catches Horatio making out in the shadows with Helena, there is real menace in her carriage. Something unpleasant is surely about to befall poor Horatio, who shrinks back from the evil queen and... strike up the feel-good rock song.

Hamlet's best moment at the premiere came in the second act during the gravedigger scene, which became a rollicking, tongue-in-cheek Dixieland jazz number. The music was so lively and well written and the scene so smartly choreographed that it carried a familiar slice of Shakespeare over the top and into fresh territory.

Most of the show was a slight turn away from the absurd, something in the vein of Mel Brooks perhaps. But this appears to have been far from the intentions of its creators, who have certainly made a tragedy, only not the type Shakespeare had in mind.

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