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CURTAIN CALL: The Two Hamlets
From THAT'S SHANGHAI May 2008 Print & Web Edition

By Mina Choi


In the last six months, Shanghai has had the rare privilege of seeing two different productions of Hamlet: the TNT Theater touring version that premiered at the Shanghai Dramatic Arts Center in April and before that, New York University co-produced an experimental version at the Shanghai Theater Academy in October of 2007. The difference between the two very different productions represents roughly 60 years of theatrical development.

TNT’s version, almost atavistic with its bare minimalist stage props and amateurish costuming was reminiscent of a medieval village production. TNT’s founder and artistic director Paul Stebbings purposely focused on the original words of Shakespeare. He grudgingly made room for one wooden prop on stage, but otherwise the production was performance-centered, with the deft and nimble acting troupe singing songs and playing their own guitar.

Unfortunately, the character of Hamlet was far too ingratiating, lacking in passion and somewhat traumatized by the idea of sexuality. Those who came to see this production were either expatriates desperate to hear some authentic British English in Shanghai or Shanghainese paying for the exoticism of a foreign troupe.

The NYU/Shanghai Theater Academy co-production, on the other hand, attracted an audience of (del) theater scene insiders, attracted by the reputation of its director, the well-known and often temperamental Richard Schechner, who has been mounting increasingly innovative and experimental versions of Hamlet for the past decade. Schechner pulled out all the stops to make his Shanghai production a state-of-the-art multi-media blitz. His camera crew projected close-ups of the actors on the walls of the theater, so close-up that the audience could see the sweat dripping off their brows.

The result was a thrilling two-hour experience, distinctly post-modern with mixed-era costumes, a mixed Chinese cast and even mixed up languages – Mandarin interspersed with English phrases such as “F-you, Hamlet.” Schechner’s Hamlet, clad in jeans, was crazed and bi-polar; Schechner’s Hamlet was also gay and his full on-the-mouth kiss with Horatio had the young girls squirming in the front row.

But the most stunning performance was that of the director himself, who upon hearing a man talking on his mobile phone in the audience screamed: “Stop the play!” The director then launched himself off the bleachers, and not waiting for the translator to explain, dragged the poor man out of the theater. After returning to his seat, Schechner said, “It’s okay, calm down Richard.” It was interactive theater at its best.

April 2008, Strippers and Princesses (read)

March 2008, Snow Storm and Bestiality (read)

February 2008, A Recap of the Spectacular Fall 2007 season (read)


For a complete list of Theater Articles by Mina Choi click HERE