Sunday, February 10, 2008

Wondrous strange

Repertory Philippines' Hamlet is a fresh, nay, an exciting take on one of the Bard's most famous works. (So exciting I can't even sleep without blogging this.)

The set is nothing like Denmark, except maybe Skagen. (The beach in Elsinore is rocky.) The weapons were fantastic. (I was hoping that sparks would fly during duels.) Mohawks and waxed hair: perfect. The opening tableau made me stop and think. Wait, this looks like a guild! You must forgive me for being in gamer mode, but the staging reminded me of the ROSE online, but much, much darker and with more belts. (If only there was a photo of Hamlet's dad with the Viking headgear for comparison!)

There were times when the actors were in the shadow, but the lighting in Claudius' praying scene makes up for it. The sounds in between scenes made me think of the music played when entering another map in a game. All that was missing was the "Loading" bar on the screen.

Niccolo Manahan (above) is a worthy Hamlet. Of course, it's hard to top this guy (good luck, Jude Law), but Manahan's clarity of speech and thought make you almost swear he lived in Elizabethan times. There's a classical ring to it. During the performance I saw, he had a near-miss (or was it a trick?) with his dagger and was shaken for a few moments, ad libbing and recovering soon after. Well done.

I wanted to like Cris Villonco as Ophelia, but the portrayals of Kate Winslet and Helena Bonham-Carter are etched on my mind. Still, I would like to see Villonco in a play again.

There were some interesting cast choices. After the show I couldn't help thinking "Who could also have played who?" Having young actors was generally a good thing for this production. I'd like to switch the roles of Joel Trinidad (Polonius) and Jamie Wilson (Laertes) and I think that would also work. The supporting actors were given the chance to shine. The players were effective. I only wish they had more to do. It was my first time to see Felix Rivera and I felt bad that his character was a simpleton. He'll have his chance some other time.

Director Ana Bitong reduced the play-within-a-play to a pantomime, which effectively cut down the running time. But I must ask: Where is Fortinbras? (Not that it matters. It was good to not have him around.) Hamlet drinking the wine surprised me but that made sense. (I don't mean Danes drinking makes sense. Of course it does.) Then again, Hamlet could also philosophize until the poison kicks in. Hamlet smoking: ok. Ophelia smoking: not ok. (Am I being sexist?)

Favorite bit: the funeral scene. Great execution, starting with the gravedigger's exchange with Hamlet and highlighted by Hamlet's too-late profession of love.

Sorry for over-analyzing now. I have loved Shakespeare's Hamlet since junior year high school, when we had to read the play and no one was spared from delivering a monologue in front of the class. I had butterflies in my stomach then, just like everyone else, but I enjoyed being the brooding Dane for a few minutes. Who would have thought, a few years later, I'd be brooding in Denmark myself?

One last bit (can't help it!) : when the players were spritzing the sand during intermission, I wished they had the big spray pumps you carry on the back like a rucksack--consistent with the concept.

photo by Jojit Lorenzo (cropped by me--sorry, idol!)


  1. Hi!

    Been a while since I read your blog. Glad you liked the play, though you clearly liked it more than I did. The look of the production is certainly something else and might be its strongest selling point. (I said so in my review on my blog.)

    I loved Cris Villonco as Ophelia, though. I thought she was closer to the Kate Winslet portrayal -- Ophelia as strong yet fragile -- than the more conventional portrayal of Helena Bonham Carter.

    And like you I love the play itself. It's the kind of book I could read everyday and not tire of it.

    Are you based in the Philippines na? Just curious.


  2. hi exie! i subscribe to your blog, so i'm very happy you stopped by.

    i saw cris villonco in orosman at zafira and even then there was something lacking. can't put my finger on what it is.

    i've been in pinas since december but i'm not sure if i'm staying the rest of the year. it depends on my PhD applications. but if i do stay, i might just run into you in ateneo :)

  3. You didn't like her in Orosman? Oy! I loved her! And that production, too. It was amazing. Maybe we watched different performances.

    PhD -- what's that? :) Me, I should be thinking about mine too. Been putting it off forever.

  4. i want to like her as a performer, but if i see her a third time and it still doesn't work for me, then it's probably a personal thing. yes, O&Z was a great show. :)

    it's never too late to go for the PhD, especially when your family is supportive of it. not many non-academics understand what it's for, though.