There was much success and sensation at the 7th edition of the 2010 Shakespeare International Festival. Craiova and Bucharest received top performances, large audiences, great directors, great actors, as well as famous scholars and critics from all over the world, all revolving around Shakespeare’s most famous play: Hamlet. The convener of this elite event was the President of the Festival, Emil Boroghină.
On stage, on screen, in exhibitions, and in conferences, we were confronted with sorrow, death and love. In English, Russian, French, Chinese, Korean, American, Lithuanian, Polish and Romanian, the story of the unhappy Prince of Denmark was telling us about the restlessness of the human being at the beginning of this millennium as we spanned over different epochs and cultures.
Hamlet, the character wished for by every actor, presented himself in the plethora of often contradicting personae: hero, anti-hero, intellectual, common man, political protester, punk rock star, bodyguard, nice guy, ugly guy, woman, man, etc. He appeared in refined costumes suggesting the Elizabethan Court, in blue jeans, and simply naked. The Festival organiser—Boroghină—was successful in making the Festival a provocative and fascinating experience which fully explored new theatrical realities. Besides, productions from the last decades were invited for their enduring modernity and innovation.
Two films enhanced the osmosis between the West and the East. Yoshihiro Kurita from Japan treated Hamlet in the Noh style on the stage of Ryutopia Noh Theatre, and Peter Brook bound his racially integrated cast in Indian theatrical traditions at Bouffes du Nord. Another master, Richard Schechner, used the Chinese masks in his lively, americanised performance with the students of the Shanghai Academy. Brutal invasion of reality dominated in some explosive performances; raw tones, blood, mud, water, fire and strained make up abounded. Accordingly, Elsinor became a jail, a morgue, an asylum, a mad house, a metro station, a slaughter house, the oval office, a supermarket, a shooting place, a theatre club, and a room in an apartments block.
The Poetics of Vice
In many performances we witnessed the empire of torture and crime evolve — a sado-masochistic world teeming with primary instincts, uncontrolled sexuality, and vampire’s urge to suck blood. The rebellious, unconventional Lithuanian director Oskaras Koršunovas (OKT, Vilnius) staged a playful Hamlet in his impressive, dream-like production. Thomas Ostermeier (Schaubühne, Berlin) touched our everyday nightmare in his exceptional stage. Eimuntas Nekrošius’sHamlet (“Meno Fortas”, Vilnius) showed a primitive and brutal world activated in a prison-like, freezing torture chamber. In these performances, ceremonies of cruelty evoked intense fear in the insolent poetics of vice, ugliness, and triviality, thus faithfully echoing the motto of the festival which successfully inspired Boroghină to challenge these directors: “The time is out of joint. O cursed spite / That ever I was born to set it right!”
The evening dedicated to Robert Wilson received a long and enchanted applause from the audience. Before the screening of his ownHamlet —A Monologue, in which he acted all the characters of the play, the genius artist told us in a solo-show lecture how he approached the piece. After the screening, he appeared on the stage again for a Q & A session which again turned out to be an endearing and instructive occasion. Another captivating moment was enacted in the dialogue between Michael Pennington and Ion Caramitru. The two actors, who are registered at the top of the greatest interpreters of Hamlet all over the centuries, told of Hamlet as a dramatic character as marking their life and carrier. The most memorable point of the festival materialized when they spoke the famous “To be or not to be” monologue in turns, leaving the audience with the impression that “an act of reciprocal fascination has been produced.”
Shakespearean Studies in Footlight
Critics and scholars also offered notable performances in the panels organised by the Festival. “Shakespeareology: Great Hamlet Performances,” a roundtable panel led by Ian Herbert, Honorary President of the IATC, and Michel Vaïs, its General Secretary, was held under the auspices of the IATC with a remarkable audience. A trilingual volume (Romanian-English-French), which is due to be published, will include the contributions from George Banu, Monique Borie, Mirela Nedelcu Patureau (France), John Elsom, Ian Herbert (Great Britain) , Michel Vaïs (Canada), Andrzej Zurowsky, Piotr Gruszczynsky (Poland), Manabu Noda (Japan), Ramune Marcinkeviciute (Lithuania), David Esrig (Germany), Alice Georgescu (President, IATC Romanian Section), Natalia Stancu, Doina Modola, and Ion Parhon (Romania). The IATC also organised the forum Theatre Studies Workshop for students and young critics, having Ian Herbert, Michel Vaïs as well as Romanian professors Carmen Stanciu and Octavian Saiu from ”I.L. Caragiale” National University of Theatre and Film Arts in Bucharest as its coordinators.
The seminar “Worldwide Hamlet in Performance and Translation,” organised in cooperation with the European Shakespeare Studies Association (ESSA), gathered contributors and participants from Great Britain, Sweden, Greece , Poland, Hungary, the Ukraine, Bulgaria, India, Japan, and Romania. Among the honorary invitees were Stanley Wells (President of Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in Stratford -upon-Avon and editor of Shakespeare for Oxford University Press and Penguin), Paul Edmondson (Director of Shakespeare Birthplace Trust). Prof. Michael Dobson (Great Britain) moderated the seminar.
Book and CD launches that were offered to theatre researchers and general public were true intellectual feasts. Among the volumes that were launched were Shakespeare: The World’s a Stage by George Banu,Robert Wilson by Maria Shevtsova, Reading Shakespeare: Hamlet and Other Essays by Andrzej Zurowsky,Hamlet: The Temptation of the Possible by Ion Omescu, Hamlet Performances by Adrienne Darvary Nagz,Ion Caramitru: From Hamlet to Hamlet and Beyond by Mircea Morariu, and Shakespeare’s Sonnets by Stanley Wells and Paul Edmondson.
Hamlet: A Liturgy of the Resurrection
During the marathon of the twelve-day festival, all the participants fell in love with the gathering at the Cultural Harbour Cetate. Situated on the Danube banks, this cultural complex is not only the headquarter of Mircea Dinescu Foundation named after the great contemporary poet, but also a privileged oasis for young artists in photography, ceramics, literature, sculpture camps and residences for writers, translators, and musicians. After the tasting of delicious local drinks and beverages as a token of welcome, the audience was guided by the British Andy Rouse and his folk band The Simply English through a journey in the world of the songs of Shakespeare’s Elizabethan period. After admiring the splendour of the sunset, they went into the wood where to see a hypnotic Hamlet performance. Sitting on wooden benches surrounded by burning candles in a mystical circle, they participated in an esoteric and alchemic interpretation of the play. In a pompous natural set design—water, sky, earth, fire—the Polish actor Piotr Kondrat performed all the characters in telling the story of the unhappy Prince of Denmark. The playful euphoria of the actor in the surroundings evocative of the Ellsinore in the play was accompanied by Vladimir Visotsky’s voice, himself a great interpreter of Hamlet.
The evening at the Cultural Harbour Cetate—magnificent in everybody’s opinion—served as the wonderful prologue for the performance on the next day at the National Theatre of Craiova by the Street Theatre Troupe from South Korea. After the line of tragic, even apocalyptic visions on the Festival’s poster, the interpretation by the director Lee Youn-Taek opened an exciting way towards light and reconciliation. On the stage living creatures devour each other in ferocious battles. Violence is an archetypal force, and the grave the gaping destination where they will all be thrown to join frightening spectres. But in the surprising end—a liturgy having as its actors the priests—they get out of the tombs, hangmen and victims alike, out of the earth into full light in order to be judged. Hamlet takes off his tattered clothes of sins, and, stark naked, follows the suit of the resurrected. “The rest is silence” denotes the peace of some divine order. Lee presented a therapeutic vision for the crisis that troubles our society. It was a sublime curtain to fall upon the “Hamlet Constellation” and the Shakespeare International Theatre Festival, a climactic point of the theatre year 2010.
 Ludmila Patlanjoglu is Theatre critic and historian, as well as University Professor (with PhD) and Head of the Theatre Science Department at the “I. L. Caragiale” National University of Drama and Film Arts in Bucharest, Romania. She was former President of IATC- Romanian Section (1999-2008) and Member of IATC’s Executive Committee (2001-2007). She is currently honorary member of the IATC – Romanian Section board (2008 – present) and a Member of the Romanian Theatre Artists’ Association (UNITER). She directed the 2002 and 2003 editions of the “I. L. Caragiale” National Theatre Festival in Romania and the 21st Congress of IATC organized in Bucharest (November, 2003). She launched the IATC’s THALIA Prize (designer Dragos Buhagiar) and is a Member of Editorial Board of the Critical Stages, a web journal edited by IATC.