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Hamlet as 'emo' as ever

  • Published at 12:06 pm April 3rd, 2019
Still from Shilpakala's 'Hamlet'
Queen Gertrude and Laertes weeping over the body of Ophelia | Courtesy

All the deliveries of monologues were great, including the iconic 'to be or not to be.' Therefore, the verdict is that I love this adaptation of 'Hamlet,' put together through the initiative of Shilpakala, under the guidance of Liaquat Ali Lucky. There is nothing in it that you will not love

Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy has always been a great hub to which Dhaka's arts and culture lovers may gravitate. International all-Asian art biennales, painting exhibitions, poetry seminars, pitha festivals, and a myriad of other programs are held—at the venue's many halls, auditoriums, and stages—and on the grounds of the compound. In the jam-packed schedule of such a lucrative venue, it is to the credit of the efficiency of Cultural Affairs Ministry, that the authorities regularly manage stage plays of highest calibre, at the four theatres of Shilpakala. This review will look at an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” adapted by Syed Shamsul Haq, and directed by Ataur Rahman. 

“Hamlet” has been widely considered to one of Shakespeare's best plays. The “madness” within the characters of the play, is one of the recurring symptoms of trauma that is all too familiar in real life. The play does not just show one titular “mad” character; but Queen Gertrude, Ophelia, Claudius, Laertes, and Polonius are all equally crazy in their own way. The great master playwright efficiently wove a tragic tale of madness and grief, while incorporating archetypical “crazies” from various corners of society, of his time. The play is considered an all-time classic, and will remain a crowd-favourite. 

The National Theatre Hall of Shilpakala was expectedly full on  Saturday evening, when “Hamlet” was staged. Both tiers of the hall were filled, and people were transfixed towards the stage in rapt attention. 

The stage had several steps at the back of it that were made to appear like an amphitheatre. This amphitheatre alternated as various rooms and courts of the royal palace in which Hamlet and his family lived. At the very front of the stage a small graveyard was erected, complete with skulls, crosses, and gravestones. 

What was great was the inventive way, through which Shilpakala’s theatre troupe depicted the ghost of Hamlet’s father. They held a  torch very close to the face of the actor who was playing the ghost, who in turn, moved very slowly across the topmost stair of the back of the stage; so as to create a gliding effect. Obviously whenever, the ghost appeared, all the lights were turned off, and ghostly music played. We saw only the white light of that torch, held close to a face, but indiscernible due to the distance between our eyesight and the apparition. 

The costume of King Claudius’s court was as majestic as one could ask for, in such an adaptation. There were no shortage of effort in making them appear grandiose, but the creativity through which, each character’s costume represented their character, is worthy of mention.

Hamlet was attired in characteristic black, with a goatee; that seemed very relatable in our times. Ophelia was in a long and flowing white dress, that was patterned with some small design; as if to represent the different blemishes in her sanity, that were deliberately caused by Hamlet. Gertrude was in a scarlet and purple gown, which made her seem like an evil witch. Polonius’s costume deserves to be mentioned, as he was a man with waistcoat and small glasses, representing sanity and homely comfort. 

All the costumes were simple, gorgeous, and meaningful; like they are supposed to be in any good adaptation.

Hamlet and Horatio pining after the second sighting of the ghost of Hamlet's father | Courtesy

Meanwhile, the acting was grandiose. The director did justice to the central character’s complicated relationship with his mother, through casting, I believe. The chemistry between Sangita Chowdhury’s Gertrude and Maswood Sumon’s Hamlet was palpably tempestuous, with the former wishing to understand the madness of her son, and the latter putting on a charade to express his anger at his mother’s perceived infidelity. One would be tempted to think, that this adaptation interprets Hamlet’s anger as a reaction from his Oedipus Complex. 

The actor Shafiqul Islam Shafiq was very energetic as Laertes. Mehzabin Mumu’s Ophelia is a gentle reminder of all the women, whose hearts are irreparably broken by the “Hamlets” of our society.

Claudius appeared to be the deceitful king, who is content with the results of his conspiracies. He, in fact seemed too inclined to disbelieve the madness of Hamlet, when Polonius first reports Hamlet's antics.

All the deliveries of monologues were great, including the iconic “to be or not to be.” Therefore, the verdict is that I love this adaptation of “Hamlet,” put together through the initiative of Shilpakala, under the guidance of Liaquat Ali Lucky. There is nothing in it that you will not love. 

The most noteworthy aspect of this adaptation, is that the portrayals of the characters, make them appear relatable with the people of our society. Hamlet is your token “emo” guy, so often seen in our society, full of unnecessary lamentations and laziness. Gertrude is that adventurous mother of our society, who does not compromise in taking what she loves, but equally remorseful, when made to realize the folly of her actions. Ophelia is the sweet and innocent lass, who becomes enamoured by the false of charm of a bad boy, and then is excruciatingly discarded into madness. Polonius is that caring father of the bride, who is rightfully concerned for his daughter. 

Such authenticity definitely should not be missed, and I would love to watch it again with the same actors.

King Claudius and Queen Gertrude appalled after witnessing Hamlet's madness and accidental murder of Polonius | Courtesy

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