Bart Meuleman: Perhaps we should explain very briefly what Hamlet is about. Because we often forget.
Lisaboa Houbrechts: In a nutshell, the king is murdered by his brother, Claudius, who then marries the widow, Gertrude. The son, Hamlet, is left alone with his thoughts. He is incapable of revenge.
Bart: Why do you want to do Hamlet?
Lisaboa: I want to show it in a new light and tell the story from the point of view of Gertrude, the mother. It is usually treated as a conspiracy between Gertrude and Claudius, but I don’t believe in that. For me it’s about the mother’s innocence. Gertrude is generally portrayed as an adulterous, guilty woman, but I believe she is driven by desperation and panic into marrying Claudius. That’s the reason for Hamlet’s pain and incomprehension. He directs his anger at his mother, thereby leaving Claudius unpunished and himself unable to carry out the vendetta. The real victim here is Gertrude.
At the same time I want to make Gertrude quite militant. Through her I put the female perspective at the centre of the play and I want to bring her to the heart of the repertoire. Women in history have been overshadowed by men for too long. It is time for them to step forward and tell their story.
Bart: Mother and son in your production are also mother and son in real life: Grace Ellen Barkey, Gertrude, is the mother of Victor Lauwers, who plays Prince Hamlet. Ophelia, Romy Louise Lauwers, is Victor’s sister in real life and Grace’s daughter...
Lisaboa: Yes, I’m curious to see how the actors’ family bonds influence this mythical tragedy. That is part of the research. What I have in mind is a dark, almost ritualistic production in which this real family is driven by the Hamlet script. They must be possessed by it.
In a symbolic, ritual theatre a real family of artists will transform into the canonical Hamlet family. Hamlet is a cross between theatre and real life. That border is often referred to as ‘metatheatre’, i.e. theatre that puts the emphasis on the division between what is represented and reality. It shatters the illusion. By contrast, I want to look at how the personal level can be brought in to make the illusion and the story the primary issues again.
Bart: What does that choice say about Hamlet himself?
Lisaboa: Hamlet is a tormented character who finds himself caught up in a story of incest, murder and madness. In the Kuiperskaai theatre, we are constantly looking to represent the worst horrors. Shakespeare based his Hamlet on an Icelandic Edda (c. 12) in which the hero was called Amlodi. Amlodi was barbaric, rough and ruthless. Shakespeare developed the character, rendering him incapable of murder and thus creating Hamlet’s melancholy. I find this incapacity for bestiality, this snatching him away from his original myth and time, an interesting inroad into Hamlet’s melancholic pain.
I want to give shape to Hamlet’s hysteria and melancholy. In my view, the two are linked and together they generate dark, frightening images. For example, I want to explore Hamlet’s mourning for his father. I want to crystallize the trauma. Actors will scream, spit, slow their bodies down in the extreme, cry and fight. At the same time, there is room for the little things, the poignancy, the bond between the family members on stage, which will also have a very subtle presence.
I want to take Hamlet on an inner journey, to a descent that delights me. Hamlet destroys. He represents an anarchistic dream which goes hand in hand with self-destruction. Like Hamlet, I want to present cruelty and madness as a solution. The spectators can experience a revelation in Hamlet’s crisis, enabling them to view their own crisis in a different way.