YorkShakes 2015 Review: The Diagnosis: Hamlet

High hopes were set for this Catalonian retelling of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Unfortunately, this puppetry performance fell short of the mark. reviews

Image: Marta Vidanes

Image: Marta Vidanes

Venue: St. Peters School

The puppets themselves were well made. Each entrance was received with laughter. The way Gertrude was re-imagined was particularly creative; a new light was cast on the Shakespeare character by the way she was presented. Her quick succession to a second husband was made comic by the way she gravitated towards the character played by Gallardo himself and by the body language he gave her when performing. She looked the part, dressed in a floral shirt and with oversized breasts. ‘Hamlet’ expressed something haunting for a puppet, with a white, bony face and crazed hair. You could tell the artist had talent (and he really had made puppetry into an art).

However, the story itself was a problem for me. Teenage melodrama and an ill-conceived ‘white room’ scenario form the backdrop for Gallardo’s exploration of Hamlet. Most of the dialogue and all of the narrative structure is original, although the occasional line and the famous ‘To be or not to be’ monologue slip in. It is not seamless at all; it feels like three separate stories merged together without much thought for what it was they share. The puppets themselves dominated the stage (partly because there wasn’t enough to make us care for the domestic drama that was going on) whilst a man projected his feelings onto puppets and a severed relationship between a teenage boy and his mother is shown. It becomes twice as uncomfortable when, half way through, Gallardo kisses his punk-teen Ophelia puppet and the relationship between teenage puppet ‘Max’ is transferred onto middle-aged adult Max.

The set wasn’t exciting either. There were shoe boxes inexplicably scattered everywhere, their only function being to hide one of the puppets. Nevertheless, the wardrobe that contained the Hamlet puppet looked fun from the inside, covered in illustrations and doodles and another good indicator that there was a good visual artist behind this piece. Some cinematic scenes were projected onto the back piece to varying success rates. One intimate discussion between the ‘Max’ puppet and adult Max worked effectively and was probably the most provoking part of the piece. It comes back less successfully in a dialogue over Skype between Max and Ophelia though, which has Ophelia’s suicide screen punctuated by a sad face emoticon. I couldn’t help it, I laughed.

At best you could describe it as unexceptional, although I think this kind of presentation of mental health on stage is unhelpful. There is no real understanding of the problems faced by anyone suffering from a mental health problem here, it is just a dramatic device trying to bring something – anything – to Hamlet. It’s a shame, because I think stories can be (and should be) retold and recreated, it was just this particular retelling that fell short of the mark. His puppets were excellent, but Gallardo was held back by the writing of the piece. As much as I wanted to admire him for his puppetry, my response to the piece was defensive because he took something I love – good writing – and disregarded it completely. Unfortunately, the echoes of Shakespeare ended up making it worse.

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