Words by: Mandy Moe Pwint Tu
It had been a night of clowns.
I mean this in the most literal sense – prior to arriving at the Regal Theatre (after walking for five minutes in the opposite direction) where the Tiger Lillies’ take on Hamlet was being performed, I had seen Valentine, a story about a clown who had lost her heart, at the Blue Room Theatre as a part of Grr Nights. Valentine had been a better show than I was expecting, and a better show than I felt I deserved for all my cynicism. I knew that this performance of Shakespeare’s Hamlet was going to be different – but how different, I was yet to find out.
The Tiger Lillies are described in the show’s programme as “an original, provocative and genre-defying band”, but this in no way prepares you for the weird and wonderful performers that they are. Martyn Jaques, the founder of the Tiger Lillies, leads and moves the story forward with his haunting falsetto and his music, in turn comedic and macabre to fit the tone of the play. He is accompanied by his band mates, Adrian Stout and Jonas Golland, all of whom are woven into the Danish prince’s tale as effortlessly as the show itself unfolds.
Caspar Phillipson’s portrayal of Hamlet as a genuinely mad prince is exquisite; he makes it so that Hamlet’s thoughts and emotions crawl under your skin and settle there. You can’t help but feel sympathetic for this character who feels he has been wronged by his uncle and his mother; and here there is no Horatio to stand stalwartly by his side. Hamlet is utterly alone; Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are but figments of his imagination (in a terribly clever scene where Hamlet voices the two actors who lip-sync their lines). And perhaps, because of his loneliness, he garners more pity.
Andreane Leclerc plays Ophelia, a character whom I’ve always felt had been sidelined in most of the performances I’ve seen, and sidelined by Shakespeare himself, who seems to be saving her to be his tragic heroine for the sake of tragedy. Here, Ophelia’s sorrow is justified: you see her, young and in love with Hamlet; she despairs when Hamlet proclaims that he loved her not, despite his actions proving otherwise – but she doesn’t disappear. As the play progresses, she is seen longing for Hamlet, who comes to her in her dreams, but disappears when she wakes; her pain is so palpable that you could reach out and feel it. Martyn Jaques’s plaintive song, where he sings that she is drowning in her dreams, is beautiful: the stage, where Ophelia wanders, lost, and hands offer her flowers, is profound – her drowning scene powerful. I think that this is the first time I have seen Ophelia being given more depth as a character than as ‘the tragic heroine’.
Zlatko Buric plays Claudius, and Charlotte Engelkes plays Gertrude. Both are fantastic in their respective roles; my only complaint being that I wish I could have seen more of the both of them on stage. Morten Christensen plays Laertes and Polonius; he is adequately creepy as the former and delightfully hilarious as the latter. I particularly enjoyed the way he read the letter Hamlet wrote Ophelia, breezing over the words by adding “blah blah blah”s.
This is a brilliantly executed show, combining circus acts, large puppets, and a musical itinerary that boasts of Martyn Jaques’ dark lyrics, with the Bard’s tragic tale. Visually it is compelling: the actors caper and leap and glide and all but fly on the stage; the lighting is perfect, varying from blue in Ophelia’s despair to red in the climax; the staging was awe-inspiring, from the tilted table to the falling castle; the music both poignant and spirited.
It was a tremendous night, and it came as no surprise when the actors finished to thunderous applause.
So if you’re debating whether to see or not to see this show, there is no question. You should definitely see it, I promise you, you won’t regret it. Tickets here.