Lockdown reviews: H.

A film by Jan Klata, over three nights of live performance, this is a Polish version of Hamlet from 2006, bringing both a sense of the theatre and the intricacies of cinema to this Shakespeare classic.

Endlessly inventive and innovative, this piece of theatre for the screen will keep you on the edge of your seat. It’s explosive, exciting, and at just under two hours, strips down the longuers of the play to retain a tight, thrilling core.

Screencap from H.

Claudius dronks at the table with family and courtiers, Hamlet (Marcin Czarnik) broods, and the translation by Stanislaw Baranczak effectively distills the script and adds a new edge to it.

H. is a striking piece of drama performed within a set lit in greys and muted colours (Kaisa Adamik did the cinematography and editing). It looks glorious from the opening scene and the direction pulls us close into private and public spaces and conversations, then pulls us back to see the range of this corrupt, duplicitous, wine-washed court.

Screencap from H.

Ophelia (Marta Kalmus) is vibrant and knows her own mind; she is not the naive victim we see in many productions. This is a significant production which magnifies the isolation, the politics, and the passion within the play. Hamlet grows strength and resolution as a character, while Claudius (Grzegorz Gzyl) feels like a very modern politician, hungry for power and eager to please.

Filmed at the Gdansk Shipyard by Wybrzeze Theatre, this theatre performance uses every corner of its “found set” to offer an Elsinore which is truly rotten at the core, despite everyone in it – even the waffling Polonius – displaying shades of grey.

Screencap from H.

Hamlet and Ophelia in church appearing to be played by strings, like court puppets, is a particularly effective image, as is Claudius’s literal wrestle with his conscience. The use of distorted music and disconcerting camera shots adds to the unease. Now and again the effect is simply chilling. Always, it is brilliant.

With Joanna Bogacka as Gertrude, Maciej Brzoska as Leartes and Slawomir Sulej as Polonius. Every performance big and small is terrific, but particularly Czarnik’s Hamlet. Klata has guided his cast into a theatre experience which will not be easy to forget.

My thanks to the #EuropeanTheatreClub and Nastazja Somers for bringing this version to my attention. The film can be viewed at Ninateka.pl.