You think you know Shakespeare's familial tragedy Hamlet, but then you see director Thomas Ostermeier's uncompromisingly insurgent take on the play and everything is smashed, splattered, spat out and destroyed, including all preconceptions of this work. The arching vision of this Schaubuhne Berlin production is both astonishingly original and violently alive. It is also surprisingly funny.
Instead of developing key themes of guilt, conscience or power struggle, the focus of this production is almost exclusively on the madness of Hamlet, and this is a very mad Hamlet, a rapping, spitting, calamitous, murdering Hamlet. Yes, I did say rapping.
There is no curtain to rise, the cast are on stage as we arrive, six actors for 11 parts, only Hamlet himself not doubling up. There is a long white modern table resembling something from a last supper tableau behind a moveable beaded curtain, which acts as a screen for projections.
Hamlet begins his "to be or not to be" speech filming himself and you know that deep cracks in his stability have well and truly formed.
We begin with the burial of Hamlet's father, the lone gravedigger like a hapless clown slipping on the mountains of mud at the front of the stage in the lashing rain as he falls into the grave before the coffin. Hamlet is a wailing wall of grief, skulking around the sidelines, unable to watch his mother Gertrude being consoled by his father's brother, Claudius. This is no stroppy teenage boy Hamlet, this is balding fat man Hamlet. The stage is set for a messy and exhilarating version of Hamlet.
Everything about this production centres around an outstanding performance by Lars Eidinger as Hamlet. Eidinger is confident enough in his skill to slip out of character and improvise, knowing that at all times he has us in the palm of his hand.
Sometimes you do wonder if the rewriting has gone too far, if it is radical for the sake of being radical. But then Hamlet sits in almost darkness and says "the rest is silence" and we all collapse, destroyed.
This is a truly extraordinary production, it stretches Hamlet as if it was an elastic band in danger of snapping, but Ostermeier knows exactly how far he can stretch it without breaking it.