Brighton Festival Review: dreamthinkspeak, The Rest Is Silence

Ophelia drowned

credit: Jillian Edelstein

We’re in a perspex walled box. Black floor, a faint glow from a large ceiling screen creating reflections of reflections. Boundless space. Projections of bare trees surround us, even above our heads.  A man walks toward us between the trees, goes away.  Another man looms in the extreme foreground. One wall is a close-up of his ear, leaking bloody poison. The image echoes around us.

A man wakes with a start.  His ultra-modern bedroom is a brightly lit box beyond our perspex wall. He steps through the door to his bathroom, an adjoining box, rehearsing the speech Claudius makes to Hamlet, urging him to get over his father’s recent death and join his new parents in a united front.  Overhead, we see him through the plughole as he tries out phrases and inflections above his basin.

Rooms appear on all sides.  A fashionable young woman nervously straightens her jacket; her brother does a few press-ups before slipping into an expensive business suit; an attractive older woman brushes on foundation. Multiple video images from advertising and politics are projected onto other walls.   A large room, one whole side of our own, is set up with a minimalist sofa for what looks like breakfast TV.

Behind us, a young man sits on the edge of his bed in the gloom, reflections creating the impression he’s underwater. He wrings his hands, and stares.

dreamthinkspeak’s expressionistic take on Shakespeare’s well-known tale of murder, revenge, grief and guilt, The Rest is Silence uses sound, video and cleverly created reflections alongside nine actors’ work to foreground the play’s underlying themes.  Site-selection and inspired theatre design create a space which could be anywhere, and is therefore nowhere. Nowhere solid, anyway.

We’re now experiencing Hamlet from the point of view of Hamlet.  As he joins his mother and her new husband in front of the camera, we share his waking nightmare.

While this would stand alone, it’s not one for the school parties. The familiar narrative is disassembled, pared down to its essence and rearranged to bring the unconscious to the surface. The text is present, but as artist’s material. Characters self-consciously rehearse familiar lines. Hamlet’s speeches are reported by others, or delivered to the wrong characters in ways that betray their motivation. The famous soliloquy, read in a round by the other characters, becomes voices clamouring in Hamlet’s head. Minor characters Rosencrantz and Guildenstern provide a tragi-comic counterpoint to all this illumination as, oblivious to feeling, they deconstruct Hamlet’s distressed confidences beyond sense.

Hamlet’s madness is not the spectacle here; he’s the eye of a storm of power-lust and unsustainable denial. Although a ghost does appear to him silently offering a weapon, its exhortation to revenge, heard in complete darkness, registering as Hamlet’s own thoughts.  When the lights go up there is only Hamlet, holding a gun.

Ophelia’s descent is trickier to render subtly, but she retains our sympathy and understanding as she seems to drown in grief and guilt, her corpse floating in ominous close-up above our heads.

Edward Hogg as Hamlet and Bethan Cullinane as Ophelia excel. Ruth Lass deftly delineates Gertrude’s inner conflict, although she seems too young to be Hamlet’s mother – then again, perhaps that was always the point.  But this is an ensemble tour-de-force: director Tristan Sharps knows how to get the most from his theatre-as-installation medium, and each and every cast member rises to the challenge.

We’re a little spoilt here in Brighton – we expect to be treated to a spectacular, genre-stretching theatrical experience at least once a year.  But this Brighton Festival commissioned piece for The World Shakespeare Festival certainly doesn’t disappoint.  Brilliantly conceived, skilfully executed, thought-provoking and visually stunning, it will haunt your dreams.

HOPE WISECHILD

(originally published by Guide2Brighton)

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