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Hamlets at the Library of Birmingham

No, no, no, it’s not a typo up there in the title, the performance I saw at the Library of Birmingham the other week really was called Hamlets with an -s. It was an adaptation of the famous play and it was also one of the best, most exhilarating theatre experiences I’ve had in a while.

Why? Firstly, it was set in the Library of Birmingham, probably the most exciting building in Birmingham. And I’m not just saying this as a library student:

Library of Birmingham

There was no fourth wall in this performance. We started in the foyer and were taken to various parts of the building as the action unfolded, sometimes with the actors literally all around us. The Library here doubled as the Hamlet archives, with boxes with archival material strewn around, and “archivists” guiding us from one location to the next.

You know how the Library of Birmingham is an amazing building? Just imagine being there after hours, with nothing than a group of actors and some fellow audience members to keep you company. It is brilliant. Just look at this view:

Library of Birmingham at night

Secondly, I loved what the director, Daniel Tyler, did with the text. In a nutshell, he took Hamlet apart and then put the pieces back together. I loved how refreshing this approach was – it might just be my perception, but I felt that this performance was much less in awe of the Bard than many others I have seen.

We all got given a visit checklist. Of course I checked off the scenes as we went along – I cannot go past a good checklist!

Checklist

The actors were fantastic and really devoted themselves to their roles. There was not one, but about a dozen different Hamlets. In line with the archives theme, we had actors representing previous incarnations or archetypes of Hamlet, e.g. the female Hamlet, the Sarah Bernhardt Hamlet and the Wild West Hamlet. There also were multiple Ophelias. Here you can see Gertrude and Claudius (and some archive boxes, if you look closely):

Scene from Hamlets

Some of my favourite parts?

  • The ghost scene which took place in the Secret Garden – outside on the rooftop terrace – after nightfall. Eery!
  • The Hamlet monologues – many, many different versions happening at the same time. This included a Punjabi version, a ‘Hamlet challenge’ where audience members had to fill in the gaps in the monologue, and a silent movie version.
  • The Mousetrap. I don’t think there would have been a better way to use the Library, as both the audience and the actors (who were also the audience here) were strategically placed on two levels around the rotunda.
  • Hamlet going mad: pandemonium enfolding all around the audience over an entire floor. We were free to go anywhere on that level, and wherever you looked, something was going on.

(I saw: Birmingham Repertory Theatre, Library of Birmingham & Hôtel Teatro Theatre Company present a Young REP 18-25 Company production Hamlets.  Based on William Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’. Adapted and directed by Daniel Tyler)

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