Tuesday, 23 October 2007

European House– (Hamlet’s prologue without words), Melbirne Festival

European House– (Hamlet’s prologue without words) 
by Teatre Lliure
Melbourne Festival of Arts
Playhouse, Arts Centre, Oct 23 to 27, 2007
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Walking to European House I peered into a well-lit apartment. Was the man leaning over the table melancholy or merely pensive?

Watching this production we are voyeurs into the home of a modern Hamlet (Joan Carreras) after his father’s (Victor Pi) death and before the events of Shakespeare’s play.

We witness private and shared moments in various rooms. The familiarity of people’s actions and the invasiveness of this experience resonate after the performance is finished. Although, unlike James Stewart in Rear Window, we do not witness a murder, we know that Claudius (Alex Rigola) poisoned his brother and that Hamlet’s torment is just beginning.

The set design is a modern, three-storey home with its front wall removed to allow peering eyes to view the intimate details of these lives. The action is often simple, always recognisable and on a human scale. Clever lighting (Maria Domenech) shifts our eye but our attention is often split between rooms.

Two servants (Chantal Aimée, Angela Jové) prepare in the kitchen before Hamlet and Gertrude (Alicia Peréz), return home from the funeral, silent and grieving. The conniving Claudius commands the space in the living room, seduces his brother’s grieving widow in her bedroom then falsifies documents – perhaps the will – in collusion with Polonius (Joan Raja) in the study.

We see Hamlet naked in the shower, in his bedroom frenetically doing push-ups, being comforted by his loyal friend Horatio (Ferran Carvajal), stroking the face of Ophelia (Alba Pujol), screaming into a pillow with Guildenstern (Nathalie Labiano) or dancing and laughing with all his young pals.

Claudius and Gertrude tear each other’s clothes off and engage in some graphic and raunchy sexual activity on her marital bed. King Hamlet’s Ghost roves unseen through every room until he leaves a cryptic post-it note with a message for Hamlet.

Laertes (Julio Manrique) disapproves of his sister’s petting with Hamlet and Rosencrantz (Norbert Martìnez) makes a giggling idiot of himself.

European House is a stylish and slick production directed with attention to detail by Rigola who also plays Claudius. The cool and sleek design (Sebastià Brosa, Bibiana Puigdefràbregas OK) is a cool environment housing both passionate and restrained emotions in all characters. The house seems to be near breaking point and there are portents of impending doom when the caged bird dies and Hamlet is given his father’s message.

European House is a compelling and inventive show that tells an intensely human story with no words but with impeccable acting.

By Kate Herbert

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