Singapore International Festival Of Arts: Dazzling Hamlet|Collage is a must-see for Shakespeare lovers

Russian actor Evgeny Mironov performs a one-man adaptation of Hamlet in the opening act of the Singapore International Festival of Arts.
Russian actor Evgeny Mironov performs a one-man adaptation of Hamlet in the opening act of the Singapore International Festival of Arts.PHOTO: SERGEY PETROV

Hamlet|Collage

Theatre Of Nations/ Robert Lepage

Singapore International Festival Of Arts

Drama Centre Theatre, Aug 11

Technically brilliant and physically challenging, Hamlet|Collage is a must-see for lovers of Shakespeare.

The original Hamlet is monstrous in scope, requiring a large cast and broad attention span on the part of the audience. Hamlet|Collage, one of the opening acts of this year's Singapore International Festival Of Arts, condenses the best of the play into a one-man show taking place in 145 minutes.

All the action happens inside the three joined sides of an open cube. Dizzyingly suspended above the stage of the Drama Centre Theatre, the space invites the audience inside Hamlet's mind. It should be claustrophobic but the cube contains far more than it should. Parts of the walls fold out or in to reveal hidden cabinets full of clothes, desks and a row of TV screens. Canadian director Robert Lepage wields his favoured tools of multimedia and mirrors like weapons to open up the confines of stage and, more rarely, Shakespeare's script. Nosy Polonius is clearly Denmark's chief of security here, a nice touch for a character often dismissed as a busybody of little use except in advancing the plot.

Projections transform the cube into a padded cell, a library, the interior of a ship and even a garden. As Russian actor Evgeny Mironov climbs a ladder, the cube rotates so a wall becomes the floor and the floor the ceiling, forcing the audience into the vertiginous confusion within Hamlet's head. It is a good trick the first few times. Over the course of the play it becomes a circus act taking the audience out of itself rather than driving viewers further into Hamlet's madness.

Lepage did a one-man adaptation of Hamlet 20 years ago in Elsinore, a very different rearrangement of the text but with ground-breaking (at the time) use of multimedia. For all the visual tricks, Hamlet|Collage goes back to the basics in that the play is the thing - the actor and his delivery of text and characterisation supersede the rest.

Mironov, artistic director of Russia's State Theatre Of Nations, plays 11 key roles including that of Hamlet, his mother Gertrude, his uncle Claudius, the ghost of Hamlet's father and poor, drowned Ophelia. It is a performance staggering in its physical challenges. Over 145 minutes, he is suspended from wires, leaps, climbs, jumps into holes and transforms between characters in milliseconds, aided by false hair and cleverly designed costumes (Francois St-Aubin). A white strait-jacket reversed is a black doublet, a fencer's mask hides the mustache needed to transform the blonde Hamlet to brunette Laertes.

He is just so good that it is impossible to imagine Hamlet|Collage as taking place inside the mind of a single schizophrenic. He easily convinces the audience that an entire ensemble has taken the stage. It is not surprising when 13 people come out at curtain call, the baker's dozen of production crew required to mount a successful one-man show. After all Hamlet was never just about one man, was it?

book it

Hamlet|Collage

Where: Drama Centre Theatre, National Library Building, 100 Victoria Street

When: 8pm Aug 12 and 13

Admission: $40, $60 and $80 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg)

Info: In Russian with English surtitles. The Singapore International Festival of Arts runs till Sept 17. For programme details, go to www.sifa.sg