Self Expression Magazine

The Tiger Lillies’ Hamlet

By Fausterella

So, Hamlet. Hamlet’s great, of course. Lots of words. Lots of characters to say the lots of words. But you know what’s even better? When you take Hamlet, strip off its clothing, melt off the flesh, boil the bones down to their constituent parts, then take that basic DNA of sex and death and use it to grow a new body. Which is a musical.

In other words, and I appreciate other words might be required here, the music troupe the Tiger Lillies and the Danish theatre company Republique have a production of Hamlet on at the South Bank Centre. It started on Tuesday and it finishes tonight, so reviewing it is mostly pointless, and yet I’m doing it anyway when I’ve failed to review so many other shows. Because it’s just too beautiful not to.

Well, I say reviewing; I’m not really in a position to review it. I spent most of the evening in a state of dreamy, druggy half-hypnosis. In fact, I remained in it to the extent that afterwards, when I bought a CD and went to get it signed by the Tiger Lillies, I was unable to speak and merely gazed at them with a huge involuntary grin, like someone who was about to give up their job, hollow out their brains with a spoon and follow the band around the world, twice. However, in the interests of nodding vaguely in the direction of an actual review, a brief description of the show seems called for: it’s the story of Hamlet told with about half-a-dozen actors and only the highlights of the plot. If Hamlet were the sea, this would be the stone bouncing over it, except that the stone is covered in wings and glitter.

I am finding analogies weird today.

Anyway. It starts with Martyn Jacques singing about sin. There is dancing and flying and a giant puppet, and the best way of depicting a ghost that I’ve seen. There’s a set that mostly consists of a large wooden wall with windows in it – reminding us that at court, you never know who’s listening. Cool things happen with the wall, including one point where I genuinely wasn’t sure if someone had inadvertently been crushed. The Queen and King looked (to me) like a youngish Laura Dern and an elderly Michael Keaton  reprising his role from Beetlejuice. Ophelia was too graceful to actually have been a human actor: I suspect elf heritage. In the middle of it all, Hamlet gives a relatively straight and also excellent performance of the title role.

But, unusually for the play, Hamlet isn’t the star. That’s the narrator, fool, voiceover, guardian angel, genie – whatever is the right word for what Martyn Jacques and his cohorts are doing. He wanders round the stage singing at people. Not complicated songs. Singsong ditties, like a cross between a jingle and a dirge, about what’s going on. He has an accordion and a piano, but the play itself is his instrument, and he wrings every drop of beauty out of it. (No, you can’t wring drops out of an instrument. Shh.) It’s literally dreamlike; it’s as though the characters are dreaming or hallucinating their own commentary. (Indeed, there seemed to be a suggestion during Ophelia’s mad scene that the madder she got, the more aware she became of the band’s presence.)

This isn’t everyone’s cup of poisoned tea. It was very much mine, though. From now on the only productions of Hamlet I want to see are ones where Martyn Jacques pops up next to a post-soliloquy Hamlet to trill “You’re going mad!” at him with the voice of a demented angel.

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