I like anything post-apocalyptic so when I heard that Repertory Philippines' new "Hamlet" was going to be set in a futuristic desert wasteland I just had to see it. It called to mind the 1990 version, with Mad Max playing the sweet prince. Of course that was due to his portrayal of crazy SOB Riggs in the "Lethal Weapon" series.
Like Baz Luhrmann's "Romeo + Juliet," Ana Abad Santos-Bitong's "Hamlet" strips the play down to its core but retains Shakespeare's dialog in a fit of deconstruction. The production is set in a generic sci-fi wasteland where England and France still exist (presumably as deserts, too) and warriors run around with scimitars, daggers, and a big honking mallet.
The set design is wonderfully minimalist, making use of angled inclines to maximize space. It's just a bit dusty, which I guess is the point. The costumes are all leather and corsets and mohawks but I was somewhat relieved that they didn't go all Amy Lee on Ophelia, dressing her, instead, in white, the only bright spot in the bleak landscape.
The weapons look cool (if a bit impractical) but what's amusing is that the final duel looked too much like Feyd-Rautha and Muad'dib's duel in David Lynch's "Dune" -- coming full circle since Herbert got that scene from "Hamlet," complete with poisoned blade.
Joel Trinidad plays Claudius as a weasel, a short, bald weasel -- Yul Brynner with less majesty and a mousy voice that screams "schemer." Cris Villonco's Ophelia is the not-too-innocent kid sister to Jamie Wilson's surfer-dude Laertes (did he really play it that way or was that just his lisp?). Bodjie Pascua gets props for bringing us back to Shakespeare and actually speaking in iambic pentameter. The rest of the cast is superb from Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (whom we can tell apart) to the soldiers and players.
Hamlet is emo in tight pants and eyeliner, which is fitting; he IS the original troubled teen. Niccolo Manahan plays him as such, allowing the audience to see the character as a kid trying to deal with his father's death, his mother's remarriage to his uncle (who killed his father), and a girlfriend with a disapproving father (whom he accidentally killed, driving her batshit insane). Emo!Hamlet is angsty instead of melancholy, which is the stuff of tragedy (if the characters were self-aware).
Which, in a way, they are in "Hamlet." A play within a play, commenting on the state of the viewers watching the other play. A meta-something or other driven by soliloquies, which makes it a great vehicle for actors. Every major character has a moment in the literal spotlight to expound internal motivations. Which is why this Hamlet doesn't do bombast; "To be or not to be" and "Alas, poor Yorick" are recited as the musings that they are.
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The play clocks at 2 1/2 hours, with some scenes edited out (watch the Kenneth Branagh version for the full four hours). Definitely time well spent.