Shakespeare in Stratford

Last night, Arthur and Lynn took me to see Hamlet at the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-Upon-Avon. I was sure to read the sparknotes on Hamlet before I went, because I knew otherwise I wouldn’t be able to follow along. Arthur and Lynn were in the same boat, and we spent the car ride there clarifying the characters and their relations to each other.

It was a predominately black cast, with only a handful of supporting characters being played by white people. It was also a modernized version. I was skeptical about how the modernization would pan out because the last time I saw Shakespeare modernized was the, quite frankly, scarring movie of Romeo + Juliet starring Leonardo DiCaprio.

In the end, I was very impressed and thoroughly enjoyed the production. The modernization was limited to their clothes and some of the props. The words were still the same, except for a few well placed lines in modern English. I’d like to compare it to the BBC show Sherlock, and what one of the producers of Sherlock once said: “By putting it in modern times, people focus on the story itself and aren’t caught up in the fact that it’s Victorian era with the costumes and the props and whatnot.” I think that’s true of this production of Hamlet. The king wore suits, the queen wore knee-length dresses and Hamlet wore beanies with skinny jeans. Because people were walking around in suits and not flowing robes and glittering armour, I wasn’t focused on trying to place the costumes and therefore the character. I understood who everybody was because of their costume, and could focus on what was happening around them.

That being said, I was interested in what they would do for the final fight scene. People had been carrying around guns up until then, but with the way the killing happens in the final scene (using poison), you can’t use guns. They used African fighting sticks instead, which leads me to another point.

The entire production had a very prominent African influence. A lot of the supporting characters wore clothes that could be called inspired by Africa and the other fabrics used in props were the same. The music used was African and there were lots of drums throughout. Arthur was wondering if they were trying to draw comparisons to the interfamily conflict that happens within the governing families in areas of Africa. Needless to say, I know nothing about African politics, and so can’t draw those connections myself.

It was a long production, just under 3hrs long, but very well done. I enjoyed it much more that I would’ve thought I could any Shakespearian play (after being forced to read and over-analyze multiple plays in high school, I’ve been put off Shakespeare as a general rule). If any of you were in England, I’d recommend you to go see it.

(the recount of my trip will continue later on – figured I should blog about this while it was fresh in my mind)

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