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Director's Notes

Approaching Hamlet is a daunting task. There have been more past productions and more books written about Hamlet than pretty much any other play. We also approach this production in the year that two very high profile productions are taking place in the British Theatre: David Tennant plays Hamlet with the Royal Shakespeare Company; and Jude Law plays Hamlet at the Donmar Theatre under the direction of Kenneth Brannagh.

Another challenge that ETG faces is that we can only afford to run our show at around two hours in length, when the play (uncut) runs at around four hours. Therefore, in cutting the play, I – as Director – decided to go through line for line and ask which of the lines were absolutely essential to the meaning, drama and emotion of the play. Therefore, our cut is very raw, and we hope that through our emotional sureness in the delivery of our lines, and the physical representation we will present the timeless and intensely inspiring essence of the piece, bringing it to a twenty-first century audience afresh.

In order to tackle the first challenge – that of producing a show that was in some way valuable in its own right amongst the hundreds and hundreds of other productions that have existed – I began to think about the key theme of "Hamlet's consciousness". A while ago, I directed another play very concerned with the difficulty of "consciousness", a play called 4:48 Psychosis by Sarah Kane. During that production we became interested in the element of "water" as a metaphor for the fluidity of thought. We were also inspired by water's dual possibilities: as both life giver, when ingested into the stomach, and killer, when ingested into the lungs. The image of an island amongst a turbulent sea is a obvious metaphor for the isolation and confusion of consciousness.

I was then reading Ulysses by James Joyce, which is a book that is actively interested in the Hamlet archetype – the main characters make many allusions to the Dane and use the story to explore the relationship between a father figure and a son figure, and, more generally, as a way of understanding modern thought. I found the following quotes, which inspired me to explore water as a theatrical stimulus even further in our production of Hamlet:

"[water's] potentiality derivable from harnessed tides or watercourses falling from level to level: its submarine fauna and flora (anacoustic, photophobe) numerically, if not literally, the inhabitants of the globe: its ubiquity as constituting 90% of the human body"
"[Stephen disliked] the aqueous substances of glass and crystal, distrusting aquacities of thought and language"

These thoughts, coupled with the intriguing choice of suicide Ophelia takes – to drown herself, rather than any other form of self-slaughter – act as a starting point for our interpretation. However, it is only a starting point, along with some other starting points e.g. attempting to make the minor characters vibrant, memorable and fun; and to ask the question 'how could the events of Hamlet occur in a modern world?'. The real "interpretation" will come in the months of rehearsal I undergo with my actors. The 2008 ETG Hamlet will be a high energy, original and hugely creative vehicle for expressing the thoughts and lives of the twenty-five strong team of young artists and technicians that will work so hard to bring the production to European stages.

David Brown
European Theatre Group Artistic Director 2008-2009