“Everybody smells a little bit of blood” – Theatre review

Örkény Theatre has made a strikingly modern production of Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

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Hamlet is one of the most often performed tragedies in the world. In Hungary, previous productions used the widely known translation by János Arany; however, it was still an archaic text. Therefore, László Bagossy, the director of the Örkény Theatre’s production, has decided to use the new translation by Ádám Nádasdy, which is a more modern interpretation of Shakespeare’s words and thus allows a contemporary aspect of the play.

The play starts in a football stadium: the people of Denmark sit on red plastic seats, and in the centre there is the VIP section occupied by the new king, Claudius (István Znamenák), who looks like a mobster, and his new wife (and former sister-in-law), Gertrude (Anikó Für). Bagossy’s intentions are clear with this minimalistic scenery: he is mocking the ‘stadium building fever’ in Hungary. The staging doesn’t change during the play; therefore, the audience has to use their creativity to imagine the different scenes.

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The costumes are in line with the whole modern concept: Claudius and Polonius (Imre Csuja) are wearing suits, Gertrude is wearing huge sunglasses, while Hamlet (Csaba Polgár) is wearing jeans and sneakers, which have red and white colours, the same colours as of the Danish flag.

The dramaturge of the production, Ildikó Gáspár, offers an emotional journey: the beginning of the play is weirdly hilarious, especially Hamlet insane episodes, and the very meta-theatrical scene, in which the Actor is reciting the ‘Hecuba’ soliloquy and Polonius behaves like a disrespectful audience member: eating sweets from a noisy bag, or forgetting to turn off his mobile phone, or simply falling asleep and snoring. You cannot help but laughing at these moments, but then you have this strange feeling, maybe guilt, because you realise that this is the great tragedy of Hamlet, and you shouldn’t be laughing at it. And suddenly, around the madness and death of Ophelia (Tünde Kókai), the laughing is gone and the whole thing becomes very serious, especially when the stadium is filled with plastic skeletons.

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This ‘modernism’, which surrounds the whole play, culminates in the end scene, when Fortinbras and the Norwegians arrive to Denmark to see a pile of dead bodies. At this point Bagossy changes the course of the play: the duel scene is narrated to Fortinbras and company by Horatio. After that, the Norwegians start taking selfies with the bodies.

Old Hamlet is played by the same actor (László Gálffi) as the Actor and the Gravedigger. This element emphasises the meta-theatricality of the play and makes these characters central figures. Gálffi’s performance is superb in all his three roles: he is dignified as the late king, vulgar as the Gravedigger and intense as the Actor.

Oftentimes, the actors are not facing each other while having a dialogue, which is quite disturbing, especially in the scene when Hamlet confronts his mother. Even though Gertrude avoids eye contact with Hamlet, which may suggest Gertrude’s coldness towards her son, her tears reveal her true feelings.

All the performances are great, but Polgár’s Hamlet is downright outstanding. His depiction of the insane Hamlet is absolutely amazing; he runs around frantically, singing into the mike the song “Night, Night, Everybody smells a little bit of blood” like a rock star, wearing a tutu around his neck and smearing red lipstick all over his face; his madness is unquestionable. Meanwhile, his longing for a loving father is heartbreaking. The moment when the ghost of his father appears and Hamlet grabs him just like a little child is truly poignant. Polgár delivers his soliloquies to the audience with such directness that it is really hard not to answer back to him.

The weak point of the play is Tünde Kókai’s Ophelia; her Ophelia is static and monotonous. However, when she is playing mad Ophelia, her performance is much better. It looks as if she put all the effort in that part of her role.

Bagossy has created a wonderful production which makes you laugh and cry at the same time. Moreover, this modern touch is not as disturbing as it could have been, if it weren’t for the amazing performances, the brilliant translation and the superb direction.

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Hamlet, Örkény Theatre, Budapest (Photos retrieved from the official website of the theatre)


-Gabriella Tujner

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