What You Can Get Away With » mercury theatre

Last night I went to see Hamlet at Colchester’s Mercury Theatre. This was the first presentation from the Mercury’s participation in the interACT international theatre network, produced by the NI Drama Theatre of Skopje in Macedonian with English subtitles.

I could wax lyrical about the performance, but I’ve found this review that echoes many of the same points I’d make, so why duplicate? What I did notice was that the audience was following what was a very powerful performance, laughing at the moments where the director had pulled out moments of absurdity and black humour from the script, notably Hamlet’s meeting with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and a rather amusing twist in the arrival of Fortinbras at the end. I won’t spoil it, just in case you’re going to see it in the couple of days before it ends.

One thing I did notice was that a lot of the international dimension to the setting was kept in, setting Elsinore as a place surrounded by war, and providing an explanation for some of the industrial bleakness of the stage. Claudius is presented here as a sadistic tyrant, chairing a drab politburo high above the ground and it’s hard not to wonder how much the last two decades (and more) of Balkan history influences their perception of Hamlet.

It’s easy to sneer at the idea of a production like this, and I’m quite sure some people saw that the Mercury was presenting this, made up a theory that they’d be following it with the Merry One Legged Lesbians Of Windsor and then ranted about the public sector gravy train or something similar. But this isn’t just some randomly chosen attempt at obscurity and audience alienation, but part of a strategy to show how theatre can help build new relationships across Europe and beyond. Because of this staging in Hamlet – and the exchange tour of Stockholm to Macedonia and Bulgaria later this month – Colchester’s profile as a cultural centre is being raised, and it may provide a springboard for further links in heritage, tourism and trade that could benefit all of us.

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