A ghost is a ghost is a ghost

The audio of a vintage trailer covers the chattering of the audience, whilst the ultra-technologic proscenium begins to enliven. A `nurse` stage-hand sets a micro-screen behind an actor who is rather `acting` as a presenter. Disorientating further are a Macbethian kilt and an iPad in his hand. Fast paced he conquers a stool, and places it in front of an anchored video camera directed onto the interior of the scene. He sits down and starts `presenting`, — together with his double, materialising in the screen behind him, the features of this uncommon `action` upon the most iconic Shakespearean character.

The impression is that this is just a preamble. Thus, one just starts to listen. `In 1964, — he expounds — Richard Burton had an experience that no other actor had never had before, the chance to see himself perform on a Broadway stage through a process called `Theatrofilm` with `Electronovision` `. What that is, — he admits, a little embarrassed — he has no clue. Then he proceeds: `I am no scientist`, but `I have seen the film, and I can only say it seems to be like a very well produced film, as one would have normally seen it in the theatre` — he self-corrects, `in the cinema, except that this was shot in the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre with an actual audience`.

It is just after some research one finds out that Scott Shepherd — a formidable voice print, is actually already doing his job with an on stage `calque` of the opening trailer. Therefore, we are already into The Wooster Group production of Hamlet. The mobile device is used to communicate with a further mega-video with the function of scenery flat, upon which, together with technical staff — overstepping the fourth wall, without fracturing it, he starts projecting the acclaimed production directed by Sir John Gielgud, starring Hollywood icons like the Hitchcockian Hume Cronyn. A multiplication of Deleuzian `folds`, disclosing a not only scenic depth.

He proceeds stating that this `film` was shown simultaneously in something like 2000 movie theaters across the United States on September 23 and 24 that same year, aiming at never been shown again. `Never until now`. The avant-garde work of the New York based group is not new to the integration of performance and video, and the one on Hamlet gathers in itself a multiplicity of peculiar notes, definitely beginning with the notion of `ghost`. The editing of the miraculous original — in the early 1960s `projecting`, literally, into the future, plays around the `spirit` of Hamlet, and all of its representations.

TWG's_HAMLET_001__photo_by_Paula_Court

© Paula Court

The intention, `with our Hamlet`, one can read in the program notes of a piece born in 2005 at the Performing Garage located in Wooster Street, SoHo, and from then on touring around up to the 2013 Edimburgh Festival, whose video, — further `fold`, is now accessible on Kanopy, is to reverse that process, reconstructing it. A `reversed-Theatrofilm` — public laughs, where Burton is there but he is not, just like a ghost, and Shepherd plays with this ghost, compensating his absences, as well as the other actors of the ensemble directed by Elizabeth LeCompte, founder, in 1967, together with Richard Schechner, of what was, at the beginning, the Performance Group.

A specific quote from Grotowsky in the program signals to what kind of theatre this specific fragment in the history of performative arts belongs to, `I am in the process of speaking with my ancestors. And, of course, I am not in agreement with my ancestors. But at the same time, I can’t deny them. They are my base; they are my source. It’s a personal affair between them and me.` And those ancestors’ steps, and voices, the actors reproduce as in a `chorus-collage`, channelling their founding past — right as in a `spiritualism` practice, by means of in-ear receivers, and mobile scenic props minimalising further the already `poor` original staging: a rectangular table and a small throne-armchair.

An Elsinore Castle reduced then to its atrium: a high backcloth-flat, a diagonal wooden structure made of a series of four rungs and a flight with banister, the allusion to an armoury, and the ghost of the father in the shape of an unmistakably Gielgudian shadow-projection… Now proposed again in a smaller, neutral version, halfway between a movie set and a rehearsal room, in order to make space for the bodies and their visibility. All the cuts, and the technical issues — `unrendered`, while apparently real, are actually part of a revived script, and likewise conceived to make the `new actors` visible, a generation honouring its predecessors.

That is how, in order to paint of `present` the topical moments of the tragedy, not only two cameo-songs come, composed especially by Fischerspooner for this production, almost a `concert-into-the-performance` paying homage to the Ophelia-Laertes relationship — Casey Spooner being part of the cast, and playing, among other characters, Laertes himself, but also the `technicolor` and voice distortion for the troupe setting up the `mouse trap`, and again some `pirate-fragments` inserted in the Burtonian template, surgically cut out from Zeffirelli, Almereyda, Branagh movies. Tribute accomplished.

TWG's_HAMLET_002__photo_by_Paula_Court

© Paula Court

Farewell, aerial Genius…

Nothing less than a precious cameo, becoming `a natural born Shakespearian actor` at the height of his career. `The Tempest`, last on stage 2019, now in streaming on the Elfo-Puccini website, is a gracious window on a wise, poetic soul, well-informed about himself, and his life as a performer. A one-man show tailor-made for Ferdinando Bruni — founder member of storied Teatro dell’Elfo, from the co-authorship pen of Francesco Frongia. Pouring out of an intimate recounting, this short, yet intense version of `the last tale`, leans on specific predilections as a theatrical concerto, in and about the original plot, to act as an aesthetic statement gem, a gift from an actor to his audience as a tribute to life.

In little more than an hour, alone on stage, with just a couple of extra `island servants`, all the characters parade as a fictional court by the hands of Prospero the wizard-master-father-player. Shipwreck discloses the whimsical `pirate of destinies`, — in a torn stovepipe hat, brown Elizabethan collar, dark frayed coat-gown, diverting his and his daughter’s life on a white sand island — memories of old shores popping out from a distant past, smooth branches scaffolding light drapes. White sand canvases, where animated figures come to life on stage through different voices, accents, and a perfect `soundtrack` — as if inherent part of the dramaturgical `arrangement`.

Books surround a wooden stage-on-the-stage — those same books whose main sin was to have diverted attention from power, thus easing a brother takeover. On this set-in-the-set, Miranda is cuddled as a doll, before turning into an oneiric figure, Japanese Bunraku-like marionette, made up assembling recovered materials. Similar semblance is reserved for Ferdinando, while engaged into the capricious ordeal, before the final blessings. Same goes for the skull masked Alonso-Gonzago and Antonio-Sebastiano pairs, in a carousel of intrigues directed on stage as in a Días de los muertos setting — an anticipation of the final forgiveness which is here son of the fear of death.

Glove puppets are instead reserved both for Ariel — or the `aerial Genius`, who is the guardian of life itself in Prospero’s magic, here conceived as an all white transparent fabric plot and a tiny head in a Pulcinella-like hat, and his opposite, the deformed, half-human, devilish Caliban, an alluring Mamuthones mask, changing dimensions depending on his presence in each line. Therefore, big in the encounter with Stefàno and Trincùlo, whose hilarious Salentinian accent brings about some show-into-the-show made of a liquor-induced obscene score. Gracious, on the other hand, is the heart-rending closure, whilst the old man who has let his `spirit` and his magic go, thanks his public for understanding.

`Now my charms are all o’erthrown and what strength I have mine own`

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© Luca Piva