In the theatrical world, William Shakespeare’s Hamlet is famous for the relative success that it has been able to enjoy since its maiden performance in the early years of the 17th century. It was ordinary for members of the royal court of King James to invite various troupes of actors to perform their reenactments of this tragedy. In reality, the play has been in existence for over 400 years, which is enough time for playwrights and directors to come up with a different version. Such is the case with Ong Keng Sen, a legendary director from Singapore who has been practicing in theatre by adding aspects of his Asian identity to existing works. He is a former student of intercultural performance which explains the reason why he has worked unceasingly to ensure that Europeans understand the history of the Asia people and understand the similarities that are present between the two cultures (Huang and Columbia University Press 189). As a theatre director, he is best known for his 2002 interpretation of Shakespeare’s play Hamlet which brought him to international acclaim through the way in which he owned story and gave it an Asian twist(“Some More Shakespeare in Korea | Seoul Stages”). In this essay, I will provide an in-depth analysis of the Ong Keng Sen version of Shakespeare’s Hamlet the artistic choice made by the and why these decisions feed into the overall idea that the author intended to communicate.
Ong Keng Sen’s version of Hamlet was born out of the curiosity to create an Asian version of the original that would also resonate with a global audience. Sen transports Hamlet’s character to our modern times and into our local setting. He spectacularly does this by including actors that would form a mixed cast. These individuals are from diverse artistic and cultural backgrounds which serve the play well as it introduces new perspectives that had never been seen before in the world of theatre. For instance, the character of Hamlet is played by an actor from the Beijing opera and wears a Balinese mask to perform his role. It’s an example of Sen’s overt display of the many cultural forms that inspire him to create unique works of art. A Malaysian dancer plays the role of Laertes who ensures that Hamlet moves into a new realm. The individual is then viewed as a person who has moved far from his culture and into another affinity. On the other hand, Gertrude is a traditionally trained actor playing the role of the traditional dancer in Thai ogre mystics. Most of these artists come from diverse backgrounds that subjected them to general training that would then be introduced into a contemporary setting. The set also includes classical ballet dancers from Brussels, Copenhagen, and Lisbon who bring an eclectic twist to the background with juxtaposition featuring much in the text. Sen uses a combination of all these artists to set his mark culturally in the world of theatre through the exploration of intercultural relations from the root of these diversities and bringing them to the international stage.
Sen presents a piece filled with tension the beginning to its climax. The stress witnessed in trying to marry the idea of having legendary performers onstage with their contemporary counterparts is a representation of how Sen struggles to strike a healthy cultural balance. Here, Hamlet deals with various personal idiosyncrasies that reveal the hidden own eccentricities that exist between multiple characters. The text is a search of liberation that presents work that free of any cultural categories that continues to be instrumental in a globalized world. In true contemporary fashion, Sen introduces the Wu Wenguang documentary that explores the life of a gay man living in China. The purpose of this story within a story is to hold a mirror to society in the same manner that Hamlet did to Claudius (Kennedy and Yong 346). The captivating story is a confounding tale that seeks to explore equality in society and how we ought to treat each other. Sen is very particular in investigating this matter. He chooses an individual who would be considered a minority and shoves him into a society that is very critical of his sexual orientation. The question that the author intends to evoke is whether or not sexual preference qualifies as a crime in contemporary society. The use of this story also increases the tension that was evident in Hamlet in thinking that in all he did, he would never reach appoint where he would be right. A new point of view on top of the first tragedy breaks down the mythology that was used to create it in the first place. The character is no longer a respectable prince, but a disgraced gay man. He represents all members of society who, in one way or the other, might be in such a situation where discrimination comes their way but with no dense. The play mostly holds a mirror up to society, and in particular, the middle class who would most likely be within the audience.
In communicating his message, the playwright makes use of the younger generation as the best candidates for the roles. Through this technique, he develops a plot centered on younger artists who are accustomed to different languages. These actors then mingled with others from different generations in Hamlet to redefine the art of acting tragedies. Hamlet is one such character who seems to be growing and developing into this more significant than life figure that everyone yearns to associate with him from the onset. Images differ as the play moves away from the simplicity that was witnessed in other productions. Neurotic tics are a standard feature in the play with the character of Polonius depicted by a traditional Asian clown that brings an ancient seriousness to a modern world. The formidable presence of this of this particular character creates a Hamlet that seems to espouse the individualistic stance as opposed to sticking to their original cultures.
In conclusion, Ong Keng Sen’s interpretation of Hamlet represents a concept that rethinks the story of the Danish prince. In this version, characters are from an assortment of cultures that describes aspects of globalization that the world is currently experiencing. Unlike the characters in the original text, Sen’s production features an acting style that is more elaborate and with a heightened level of evocation. Moreover, the playwright uses the conflict between the characters to paint a bleak picture of our current society which would resonate with the audience. Sen manages to create an adaptation that belongs to the whole world as opposed to the original which belonged to Denmark alone.
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