Today I hiked up to North York to catch Theatre@York's first production of the season: Hamletmachine. The production showcases actors and designers in their final year of York University's Theatre program and is directed by Associate Professor Paul Lampert. (For the sake of full disclosure, I do happen to be related to the director.)
Written in the late 1970s by Heiner Muller, and inspired by Shakespeare's Hamlet, Hamletmachine is a truly postmodern text lacking traditional narrative, plot, and distinction of characters. The script is fragmented, non-linear, and stylistically resembles stream of consciousness. It is drama at its most abstract, and the entire text amounts to less than nine pages.
As challenging and dense as Muller's original material may be, the play offers much potential for interpretation. Many theatre artists have taken their crack at it over the years and expanded the short but rich script into a unique full-length production. This is what the Theatre@York team has done and the result is a real powerhouse.
Lampert's production has embraced Muller's abstract style and expanded it rather than attempt to work against it. The result is an aggressive mix of physical theatre, classic and postmodern source material, and verbatim text. In both Hamletmachine and the original Hamlet, we are witness to many of the common struggles faced by youth when confronted with adult awakening. Questions on belonging, identity, depression, oppression, and a need to rebel against the "institution", whatever that may be. In this interpretation, Lampert had each of the performers write a personal piece of text on these themes and interspersed their writing with Muller's. The result is a production with true immediacy and current relevance.
Hamletmachine is very much unlike any traditional piece of theatre. The production challenges the audience to embrace an experience beyond the intellectual. We are offered a visceral and gripping kaleidoscope of images and raw expressiveness that spark our minds and inspire a questioning of our own.
Hamletmachine is, in my opinion, what live theatre should be. Loud. Unapologetic. Visceral. Risky. Physical. Unafraid of Abstraction.
It's a long trip for those of us who live downtown but the unique theatricality of Hamletmachine is worth a little extra time on the subway. The production runs until November 15 at the Joe Green Theatre in the Centre for Film and Theatre. (York U Keele Campus). Tickets for Theatre@York shows tends to sell out, so get yours in advance here.
If you make it out to see the show, be sure to let me know what you think in the comments; this is definitely not your average piece of theatre!