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Sturua’s adaptation of Hamlet a ‘true masterpiece’

By Alan Blyth
Friday, May 2
Robert Sturua’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” which is performed from time-to-time at Rustaveli Theater, is a true masterpiece of stagecraft.

It premiered in 2001, about 400 years after Shakespeare’s original work is thought to have been first staged, and it is a refreshingly different interpretation of what is undoubtedly one of the Bard’s greatest works.

The stage set is minimalist and, apart from Hamlet’s sword, the only reminder of the origins of this play is a nice set of clear plastic panels with Elizabethan motifs on them. This lack of adherence to the conventional runs throughout the play and also extends to the players’ costumes which owe little or nothing to sixteenth century fashion.

The play itself retains all the key elements of the original. However, many of them have been tweaked, so much so that perhaps lovers of traditionally-staged Shakespearean plays might find some things a bit “odd,” not least the decidedly un-ghostly ghost of Hamlet’s father. Hamlet’s encounters with this apparition have some highly original moments, including one when the ghost is overcome with emotion when recounting how Claudius murdered him, and Hamlet ends up having to dab away the ghost’s tears with his hankie. It’s little touches like this that make Mr. Strurua’s “Hamlet” so special and so enjoyable.

Anyone who has ever seen “Hamlet” performed will undoubtedly remember Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” soliloquy—or at least the first few words of it. In Mr. Sturua’s production all you get are the first few words. We see Hamlet center-stage, surrounded by a screen made up of those plastic panels, having great difficulty with this monologue, and despite frantic promptings from behind the screen he is unable to make any headway with it. In desperation, his friend Horatio, who has been sitting watching him, hands him a copy of what to say, but still unable to go through with it, he sets the paper alight and casts it away with the brief comment: “Just words!”

“Hamlet” is Shakespeare’s longest play, with five Acts, and it is open to debate as to whether that play was able to hold an audience’s attention for what must have been an incredibly long time. Thankfully, Mr Sturua’s version has only two Acts, lasting a little under three hours. It’s got great music by Gia Kancheli and a first-rate cast who give the audience 100 percent, including the legendary Zaza Papiashvili who plays Hamlet, the stunningly beautiful and highly acclaimed Nino Kasradze who plays the vivacious and lascivious Gertrude, and Beso Zanguri, the young rising star of the Rustaveli Theater troupe, who plays the wily Claudius.

It’s fast-paced and fun, and on the evening I was there it played to a packed house: the deafening applause and cheers at the end were clear signs of the appreciation felt by the audience for the actors’ efforts. Without a shadow of doubt, it’s one show that everyone should see and, to tell the truth, it’s one that’s worth seeing more than once, it’s that good.

Those who don’t speak Georgian should keep an eye out for performances of this play which have a simultaneous English translation, courtesy of The British Council. That said, the woman who does the translation (or perhaps reads the translated script) has a tendency to mispronounce a number of words. If the Council could arrange for these pronunciation glitches to be rectified, that would undoubtedly make the experience much more enjoyable for those who do not understand Georgian.