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théâtre national de nice

Saison 2018-19

théâtre national de nice

[ Original creation | Co-production ]

hamlet requiem


with Thomas Rousselot, Stephen Tordo, Rachel Verdonck, Cyrielle Voguet stage assistant Valérie Paüs lighting Emmanuel Pestre production TAC.Théâtre co-production Théâtre National de Nice - CDN Nice Côte d’Azur with support from the Dispositif La Fabrique Mimont - Cannes and La Bourse du Travail - Avignon

Hamlet dies. He leaves his loyal friend Horatio the task of telling his story: the story of a man who must avenge his father, a man who refuses to conform to the reactionary society around him. Is he right in rejecting this old, wasted world and dying with it?
The director and some of his most faithful actors use Shakespeare’s mythical character to question our own era; a brave exploration of Man’s journey through the ages with all his pride, wisdom, madness and genius. Must we learn to die to really become our true selves? Are we the inheritors of our own past?

Like a mirror to contemporary society, this is theatre that makes us confront our innermost nature: to be, or to play at being, that is the question.


Interview Cyril Cotinaut

Interview by Caroline Audibert

You have been skirting around Shakespeare’s mythical play Hamlet for some time now – what finally made you take the plunge?

I wanted to stay small-scale but great authors and their great works always captivate me. I’ve studied the illustrious, tragic playwrights of ancient Greece: Sophocles, Euripides and Eschyle. To think that one author leads to another….I gravitated seamlessly towards Shakespeare who had also been inspired by these playwrights. I have already worked on Shakespeare and have now ended up in the grips of Hamlet. It is rather like climbing Everest! It is more difficult to scale than Timon of Athens, the play I put on last year, which is not as well known; or even Electra or Agamemnon that I have also directed. With Hamlet, everyone is waiting to hear the line “To be or not to be…” To put on Hamlet is to endure being compared. However, I also decided to produce a variation of the play rather than it in its entirety. I wanted to work with this great classic in a minimalist and simple way, with few actors.
In my career as a director, I have intuitively followed the lineage of literature that addresses the great existential questions. With Greek tragedy, we see Man facing his destiny. With Shakespeare, it’s Man amongst his fellow men. The gods are not really there anymore: rather, we find ourselves in a more horizontal world and it’s more modern too. It’s as if Shakespeare has reinvented ancient Greek forms by putting them at the very heart of Man and no longer in that conflict with Fate and the Gods….. Man has become master of his own destiny. Jan Kott’s Shakespeare, Our Contemporary, explains this very well. Shakespeare is, for me, a conduit between the birthplace of Theatre in ancient times and society today. With Shakespeare, we constantly go from one place to another, from one time to another: no longer do we have the unity of time, place and action. It’s all more unravelled, more complex and therefore, closer to modern life.

What resonance does Hamlet’s story have for us today?

I like to describe Hamlet as a student with a girlfriend called Ophelia. Life is cool. Suddenly his father dies, reappears as a ghost calling for revenge: Hamlet’s mother marries his uncle, his father’s murderer…And this thirty-something young man decides: I want to be part of the world but not this one…..not this old one with all its archaic ideas and rules. I won’t play in this masquerade! Hamlet’s hesitancy to avenge his father spans five acts and is much debated. A lot has been written about it. I personally think that Hamlet would rather not act assume their place as if they were natural, obvious. Morality has long gone! Are we really surprised that Hamlet rejects this world gone mad? The best way to fight it, he says, is to “put an antic disposition on” pretend to be mad. This is Hamlet saying: I might be more successful playing along with this world than being on the edge looking in. This is what makes it very this play, notwithstanding it bears his name, where incest, adultery, murder and revenge.

For you, is Hamlet a modern myth?

Absolutely. Hamlet is one of the four great modern myths, along with Don Juan, Don Quixote and Faust. A modern myth is a place where today’s Man can find himself. We all have something of Don Juan in our desire to be loved or in relating to the sacred and sacrilegious: we all have something of Hamlet when we ask the question, what am I doing in this world; we all have something of Don Quixote with our over-active imagination, seeing Dulcinea as the ideal woman and tilting at windmills; we are all Faust, ready to sell our soul for immortality. These four myths portray modern Man. I’m starting with Hamlet and I’ve never felt so scared in my life!

What is the pivotal driver in your interpretation of Hamlet?

My aim is not to tell his story. I start from the premise that everyone knows what happens. What I would like to do is to try to bring out the universal essence of the play. What I mean by that is to go beyond the tale itself, to extract what the play is really telling us as an audience actually living in the here and now. What do we do when we are faced with a new challenge? Do we go with the flow and play the game or do we set ourselves apart? That’s what Shakespeare is talking about. Hamlet doesn’t say, “I’m leaving”, he says, “I’m staying” and “How can I put things right?” One of the themes I want to explore in this drama is inheritance. In Hamlet’s words, “The time is out of joint. O cursèd spite/ That ever I was born to set it right!” We too pass on a world to our children, almost with the proviso “make it right.” How complicated – we would need to make the world right without blaming those who had gone before us; make a better job of it than our parents without betraying them…. What a predicament! That, for me is at the very heart of Hamlet.

In your version of Hamlet you begin with his death. Why?

It was actually my intention. At the end, Hamlet says to Horatio, “O good Horatio, what a wounded name/ Things standing thus unknown, shall live behind me! If thou didst ever hold me in thy heart/Absent thee from felicity awhile/And in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain/To tell my story.”
There is a kind of transferred immortality. He entrusts Horatio with the telling of his story. In the same way, Hamlet’s story is bestowed on the actor playing him. A requiem is a composition created by the living to honour the dead. This is an interesting place in which we find ourselves. It is up to the actor to devise a sort of funeral anthem or swan song to tell the story. Indeed, we should make this our mission, so that these authors, characters and stories do not simply vanish into thin air: we should lend them our voices and bodies to breathe life back into them on stage. The end of Hamlet is, I feel, a call to theatre and immorality: the immortality of theatrical texts, of Man, of what has been lived. It’s all the more potent for being a very relative immortality. Hamlet asks Horatio to tell his story in the same way that the actor (who will also die one day) tells the story to younger generations who will, in turn, get their hands on it and put their own spin on it. There should be something cyclical about this performance - hence the desire to begin with the ending.

Hence too, the idea that this is a requiem?

Yes, his death echoes that of Oedipus. What does the great Greek hero do when he has slept with his own mother and killed his own father? He implores the Gods that his sons battle it out for control of their lands. This is his way of asking the Gods that his sons kill each other. What a strange prayer. If he makes such a request, he is asking for the extinction of his own race - one that put such a plague on the city of Thebes. Why perpetuate a flawed race? It’s actually an incredibly humanistic prayer. I feel that there is also this desire for extinction in Hamlet, rather like him saying to his dead father: I avenged you but I don’t want to live with this blood on my hands…there has been too much killing. I’ve succeeded in extinguishing something but I have to extinguish myself with it.

Are there any other dramaturgical choices behind the play you have created?

My final dramaturgical theme is the necessity of theatre. Of course, we know that in Hamlet there is a play within a play….but this begs the question, why? There is one phrase in particular that intrigues me a lot. Hamlet says, “The play’s the thing wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king.” It seems odd to use theatre to ensnare the murderous King Claudius. Who would do that? Bringing it to our own times, it’s unlikely that it would work! Who would give himself up as the crime is being played out in front of everyone? There are some things in Hamlet that I find to be unplayable. It’s the unplayable” in the play that I’m really interested in exploring: the things that are not self-evident, those ideas of Shakespeare that, if we think about it, are strange or even lack credibility. In a word - those things that an actor cannot perform, that reveal deep questions about the theatre itself….
I’ve actually picked out a lot of theatrical vocabulary in the play. For example, Hamlet describes Polonius, the king’s adviser as a “tedious old fool” …but “the fool” or jester also has theatrical significance. Rosencrantz is referred to as a “sponge”, Ophelia as a “prostitute”….. I wanted to show that this play questions theatre itself and the role of the actor. In his first monologue, Hamlet tells us that there are things within him he can play but that go beyond appearances. How can his mother be in Claudius’ arms just as she had been with her husband? Does this mean that an actress could play her role in the same way, no matter who is by her side? Does an actor exist or just appear to exist? What does playacting really mean? I am Hamlet, I am playing Hamlet, I look like Hamlet? If we read this play in a more vertical way, relating to the art of theatre, it becomes even more interesting. That’s what I would like to see in Shakespeare’s texts. I do not want to be taken hostage by the tale itself but that the debate about the actor’s role and theatre come through. Is theatre a profession of lies and illusion? Where does the truth lie? Is it appealing…dangerous to tread the boards? That’s what really gets me going about this play. It has been three years now that I have created a huge laboratory based around Chekov’s The Seagull where there is a good deal of questioning about theatre itself. I feel a strong connection between these two plays, between Hamlet and Treplev. It could just be that The Seagull serves as an analytical matrix, or some hidden key to Hamlet.

Was your version based on a new translation?

Yes, we needed a new translation. The choice of dramaturgical direction involved re-examining the meaning of the words, so that the themes are structured and articulated properly. I needed to translate the play so that I could reveal all of the theatrical vocabulary references.

Have any particular adaptations of Hamlet inspired you?

I have seen the very beautiful version by Peter Brook, one also by directors Franco Zeffirelli and Kenneth Branagh and another by Thomas Ostermeier with his brilliant prologue! My worry each time is that I get caught up in the story, the situation, the characters. Going beyond the tale itself, I want to take a gamble on not telling the story, which the audience knows more or less, let them put it to one side to access the philosophical challenges and thus, the universal nature of the play. I would like each member of the audience to explore the depths of his or her own questions: to be or not to be? How do I live before I die? What is my place in the world? Should I attempt to change it, be part of it or run away from it? I would really like the audience to be able to ask themselves these kinds of questions.

classic inspiration
Shake Nice ! festival
Small Auditorium estimated running time 1h40 from 12 years +
  • march
  • wed 27 8:30pm
  • thu 28 8:30pm
  • fri 29 8:30pm
  • sat 30 3:30pm
hamlet requiem
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