Bard ballet keeps Hamlet on his toes

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NEXT month the Royal Shakespeare Company will bring a conventional version of the mighty Hamlet for young audiences to enjoy at Rotherham’s Magna Centre.

But before then Sheffield’s Lyceum will witness one of the more dynamic and brave reinventions of Shakespeare’s blockbuster, September 20-24.

Needless to say, narrative dance company Northern Ballet Theatre found challenges in devising a ballet scenario based on such a well-known literary work.

“It was daunting as we couldn’t use any of the text – the famous soliloquies – but instead we have to express these in dance and with emotion,” says co-director Patricia Doyle.

“Through dance we can interpret the story and its central character in another way, staying true to Shakespeare’s inspiration and imagination, but at the same time making it a little more contemporary by relating it to a fairly recent past.”

And Patricia has had the advantage of having seen boss and Northern Ballet artistic director David Nixon in the central role, as well as many other versions of Hamlet.

“The first was in Stratford on Avon with my best friend from school. Her parents had taken us and I was 17 and didn’t know the play at all.

“Michael Redgrave, playing Hamlet, was over 50, with a blonde wig and apparently blue eye shadow, but for me he was 18 and a student of philosophy.

“I fell in love with him and Hamlet at the same time.

“David and I talked about the possibility of doing this some time ago but I never really thought it would come about as it is daring.

“Hamlet is considered to be the greatest play written in the English language, if not the greatest play ever written.

“We talked about doing the ballet more traditionally but found ourselves talking about fascism and Italy and then it became the German occupation of France.

“We needed to work out how we could express the hierarchy and usurpation as we wouldn’t be in a Royal Court.

“We have watched a number of very informative films and very violent ones too, made at the time, as well as read books and contemporary accounts.”

One of the NBT’s great missions is to make ballet appeal to the masses, but even regulars must have thought Hamlet unlikely.

“Hamlet seems to tap into all people and doesn’t lose its hold, in any age.

“For some reason most people know the main speech and can even quote a bit.

“A lot of the poetry seems to stay with audiences or readers.

“It is a universal experience, hence so many continuing productions of it – here and all over the world.

“Maybe in each new production we try to get inside the mind of this young man with all before him, destroyed by things outside his experience, a good kind young man who cannot bear the burden of all that happens to him. 

“The play is so full of different emotions and in the ballet we have the chance to show some of his life before it all went so wrong so quickly.

“We can see him happy with Ophelia, with his loving parents.

“We can be free in this way as we can suggest whatever we want in dance and are not fixed by a script.

“We can interpret the story of this young man, staying true to Shakespeare and his inspiration and imagination, but telling it another way.

“I would so love those who have never read or seen any version of the play to be inspired to see it or read it and weep for Hamlet.”