Bold, bravura Bolivian brilliance

Hamlet de los Andes – Teatro de los Andes @ The Barbican Pitpart of the CASA Latin American Festival

If my knowledge of Bolivia is shockingly limited then it is fair to suggest that my knowledge of Bolivian theatre is equally lacking. However if Teatro de los Andes’ breath-taking reimagining of Shakespeare’s Hamlet is any measure of the quality of the Bolivian arts scene then it is an area that needs considerable investigation.

Fast-paced and full of vitality, Teatro de los Andes’ production finds new energy for a play whose radicalness has become blunted by its well-worn familiarity. In the fore-knowledge of its famous quotations and its prototype of Ophelia and Poloniusthe tragic hero, it is telling that it has taken a non-English language company to develop a radical approach that plays with both text and content. In recent years its closest parallel on the English stage has been Thomas Ostermeier’s German production but whereas Ostermeier’s production seems to revel in its willfully abstruse nature, the direction and purpose of Teatro de los Andes is clear throughout.

Hamlet of the Andes

There is nothing deliberately complicated about this production. It may be performed in Bolivian with just three actors and a musician. It may have taken a hatchet to the text, rewriting most of the dialogue and weaving altered quotations throughout, cut half the characters and reduced the length to under two hours.

However it also provides a chillingly clear indictment of the politico-military instability that ripped apart Bolivian society throughout the latter-half of the 20th century, which is told through the lens of the paranoia and madness that infects not just Hamlet but the whole household.

Writing in the Guardian, ahead of the publication of The Hamlet Doctrine, Simon Critchley and Jamieson Webster argue that we have either forgotten or misunderstood the true nature of Hamlet and that productions too often focus on safe interpretations; they argue that we should look to the likes of Lacan and Nietzche who took analysis of Hamlet’s character beyond the basic Freudian Oedipal model, and offered far more radical implications for society.

This production demonstrates a fault of Critchley and Webster’s argument, and of many recent audience-friendly versions of the play, which is that it continually focuses Hamlet the play on Hamlet the man. They clearly understand the motivation that affects Hamlet as an individual but ignore the idea that Hamlet is a free agent, and that he operates in a political world full of other free agents; each with their own motivation that exist independently of Hamlet’s actions.

 

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