by William Shakespeare

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The 2008 archive

Thomas Ostermeier

Berlin / Created in 2008

Hamlet © Christophe Raynaud de Lage / Festival d'Avignon


Thomas Ostermeier made a noteworthy debut in 1996 when he presented shows in a group of prefabricated structures abutting the Deutsches Theater, called the Baracke. Initially devoting himself to contemporary writings, he created an artistic collective around him that surprised and delighted the Berlin, then the European public. Appointed co-director of the Schaubühne in Berlin in 1999, he continued his work but alternated texts from the repertory – Büchner, Brecht, Ibsen… – and contemporary authors – Marius von Mayenburg, Jon Fosse, Biljana Srbljanovic, Sarah Kane, Lars Norén… Classic or modern, these plays are always integrated into the reality of a politically united but socially and culturally divided Germany, a fragmented Europe, confronted to with an attempt at a cultural invasion from across the Atlantic, from a world that cannot erase either conflict or the barbarism of its operating modes. In his artistic approach, Thomas Ostermeier, who was the associate artist of the 58th Festival d'Avignon, continues to propose a theatre that is as close to man as possible.
At the Festival d'Avignon, Thomas Ostermeier presented Man Equals Man by Bertolt Brecht, Below the Belt by Richard Dresser and Shopping and Fucking by Mark Ravenhill in 1999, Dante's Death by Büchner in 2001, Woyzeck by Büchner in the Cour d'honneur of the Popes' Palace, A Doll's House by Ibsen, Disco Pigs by Enda Walsh, Request Concert by Franz Xaver Kroetz in 2004 and Blasted by Sarah Kane in 2005.

It was in late 1601 or early 1602 that William Shakespeare (1564-1616) wrote his Tragic History of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, inspired by extracts of Tragic Histories taken from the Italian works of Bandello de François de Belleforest (1556). It was undoubtedly for the actor that he especially admired, Richard Burbage, that he wrote this tragedy, surely the most mysterious and Freudian, at the same time as he finished his most joyous comedy, Twelfth Night.

Accompanied by Maurius von Mayenburg, associate author at the Schaubühne of Berlin who translated and adapted Shakespeare's text, Thomas Ostermeier begins a journey through one of the brilliant English playwright's key works. Inexhaustible Hamlet, the first of a series of tragedies written at the end of Elizabeth I's reign. Here, on the brink of paranoid madness, in the grip of his visions, anxieties and incapacity to take a decision, to choose, to assume his status as a man and crown prince, Hamlet plays with, hides from and wants to manipulate those around him, concealing behind deliberately chosen madness a murderous plan supposed to save him, free him from the “putrid swamp” that surrounds him. Trapped by the court, trapped by the political world, then becoming truly mad, he turns against himself the weapons that ought to have served his liberation. Seeking honesty and truth in a universe where concealment and lies reign, Hamlet loses himself in his powerlessness to act, in a growing dilemma that overwhelms him and condemns him to death. To refocus Shakespeare's work on its hero interpreted by Lars Eidinger, Thomas Ostermeier has selected a limited number of actors: six to play about 20 roles, favouring the scenes in which Shakespeare depicts, through the Danish court, a political system composed of murders, corruption and passions that serve the desire for power. It is impossible, Shakespeare seems to say, to allow room for the complexity of thought when you must act, and act quickly, politically. It is this inability to choose from the possibilities that makes Hamlet unfit for power and inexorably leads him to his death, itself a herald of the collapse of the Danish kingdom as it functioned at the time. Are we then so far from today's questioning? Thomas Ostermeier asks himself and asks us. After Büchner and Sarah Kane, it is to Shakespeare that he turns to provide us with food for thought in a here and now full of areas of shade, uncertainties and a lack of landmarks.


translation: Marius von Mayenburg
mise en scène: Thomas Ostermeier
avec: Robert Beyer, Lars Eidinger, Urs Jucker, Judith Rosmair, Sebastian Schwarz, Stefan Stern
scénographie: Jan Pappelbaum
costumes: Nina Wetzel
musique Nils Ostendorf
dramaturgie Marius von Mayenburg
vidéo Sebastien Dupouey
lumières Erich Schneider


production: Schaubühne am Lehniner Platz (Berlin), Festival d'Avignon, Festival d'Athènes
avec l'aide: de l'Onda pour les surtitres

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