The Relevance of Hamlet
Story by Neo Hui Yuan, Staff Writer | Photo credit to YNC Photography
In preparation for more than a year, selling out tickets in numbers larger than the student body, boasting cast members across all three cohorts, Hamlet did not disappoint. Directed by Roshan Singh ’18 and Ritika Biswas ’18, the production brings a classic Shakespearean tragicomedy in all its glory to Yale-NUS College.
After seeing his father’s ghost, Hamlet, the prince of Denmark, sets out to test for the complicity of Claudius in father’s murder. Hamlet is insane in his quest for revenge, fueled by the sense of betrayal he felt from Gertrude’s hasty remarriage to Claudius. Hamlet’s accidental killing of Polonius eventually sets in motion a chain of conspiracies which leads to the deaths of Ophelia, Laertes, Gertrude, Claudius and himself. Amidst the bloodshed, only Horatio is left alive.
“God has given you one face/And you make yourselves another”, quotes the cover page of the play’s program booklet. As if responding to the quote, the actors very effectively portrayed the roles of their respective characters. Ziyad Bagharib ’18, successfully depicts the simultaneous duality in Hamlet, skillfully straddling both realms of the sane, and the insane.
Glen Koh ’18, also portrayed Polonius with finesse—as the fretting father, the eager subject, and the comic counselor. The vocal deliveries of the actors were also commendable. Given the significance of soliloquies in Shakespearean plays, each actor’s articulation of their lines was well done with clear pronunciation and enunciation, coupled with moderated pacing.
The actors were also complemented by the minimalistic but exceptionally functional backdrop. Lesha Mansukhani ’19 and Pragya Sethi ’19 did a good job as stage and assistant stage managers, respectively, in utilizing the five panels to signify the contrasts between the private and public stage. A sharp turn of the panels brought the audience to the bedroom of Gertrude, while another smooth sliding of the panels signaled the appearance of the apparition. The audiences orientated themselves with the grand formations of the panels to prepare for the next scene. An ingenious move was the employment of mirrors during the play within the play, where the shining reflections of the stage in the mirror were reminiscent of theatrical depictions of plays.
The use of lighting and sounds also contributed effectively to the immersive experience of the play, whose foundation was set by the architecture of the black box. The sounds used during the meta-play were surprisingly constructive in creating a trance that focuses one’s attention on the plot silently unfolding on the stage. Similarly, the lighting, be it the flood of red during the scene of Hamlet’s outburst in Claudius’s bedroom, the grimy fog at the forest, or the cone of light during Hamlet’s soliloquies, all created powerful atmospheres.
Finally, the actors’ interpretations of their lines also fully displayed their understanding of their characters, demonstrating that it was not mere recitation of iambic pentameters. This was probably facilitated by the choice to deliver the lines in normal speech. Similarly, the directors’ choice of a contemporaneous setting for a play set in the Elizabethan era made it more accessible for the modern viewer.
Hamlet effectively captured the themes of insanity, revenge and justice. Its modern day setting highlights the transcendence and timelessness of these themes. The production, however, is weaker in its more pensive moments; the actors could have portrayed their characters with more tenderness. Nonetheless, this is salvaged by the more explosive scenes in the play.
Too often, we treat Shakespearean plays as just another work in the Western canon, and forget the reasons we call them “literature”. It takes a visual reminder like Hamlet to remember the resonance we can find in tortured characters such as vengeful Hamlet and ambitious Claudius. We find ourselves wondering about the reasons that keep us alive.