Review- Hamlet, Prince of Denmark- Hong Kong Arts Festival


By Nuria Palau



It is hard to make a review of The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark without going to common places; asking why the director chose this emblematic play that contains the most transcending lines ever written, or how this version is not like any other versions or how they are all the same. So I will start by saying that Li Liyui went there. He put on yet another Hamlet, this version translated into Chinese by Li Jianming, and it was outstanding. 

This Hamlet happens in a suspension of time and space. The stage designed by German set designer Michael Simon is a spectacular round wooden platform placed on the nothingness of a black background. It moves up and down and rotates, in tension with the story. Hanging above it, there is a metal ball that looks like the moon, and as the satellite does, reflects and illuminates the stage as it serves as a column to hide behind or a structure to place your sword. The costumes are rags that put together look like royalty attire. And, as the actors lead us through a story we all know ends in tragedy, the whole theatre is filled with an anguishing eternal sound: “tick-tock” a reminder that our hero’s time is running out. 

The whole show is accompanied by the beautiful voice of 17-year-old Jiu Jiu, accompanied by Lin Chenxiehang who plays the Jinghu. The harmony they create is beyond this world and acts like the string that is suspending this performance beyond context. 

The delivery of the performance is impeccable (bearing in mind that yours truly does not speak a word of Mandarin). The complete cast stands on stage with a very particular strength, which might be related to the way it tilts and spins at times. They transcend all languages as they follow the advice Hamlet gives to the theatre group that will perform for his uncle: “suit the action to the word, the word to the action with this special observance that you o'erstep not the modesty of nature”. 

The show can pride itself on the understanding that less is more and the economy of actors is no exception; these actors playing both parts create a symbolism that feeds Hamlet’s dramatic development through the show. Pu Cunxin does an exceptional job as The Ghost and Claudius and Lu Fang’s transitions from Queen Gertrude to Ophelia explore the complexity of both characters by contrast. Additionally, Miao Chi gives a youthful and charming presence as he plays Horatio and Li Shilong does a fantastic job conveying the comic relief Polonius serves in this tragedy.

Liyui authors a director’s note on the program in which he says that the tragedy of Hamlet lies in its “Chaos of the Soul” and that is what the brilliant performance of Hu Jun portrays as he plays the role of the prince. His understanding of the sentiment and the development of Hamlet is one that I have rarely seen in other productions of the Bard. At times, you can see the weight of the world of his shoulders as he tries to decide what to do and the weariness and pain he is in. 


Yes, saying that Hamlet or Shakespeare speak a universal language is a cliche, but in this case, there is nothing else I could say. It is his understanding of human nature that allows for a Mexican to watch a 400-year-old British play translated to Chinese in Hong Kong and still relate to it.


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