November 01, 2006

The Ninja Hamlet @ The Cube

Last night was the event (as regular readers will know) that I’ve been waiting for for six months- ‘Hamlet’ performed by the Tiny Ninja Theater of New York. A 55 minute distillation of the play (interestingly, based primarily on the first ‘bad’ quarto of the text) performed by one man with an army of inch high ninja figures, smiley-faced people, robots and a rabbit on a spring.

The Tiny Ninja Theater

The action was projected up onto two big screens hanging over the tiny stage. Almost a live film presentation, many of the scenes were performed from Hamlet’s point of view. Performer Dov Weinstein used two tiny cameras in cables, winding them in and out of the miniature sets as if the camera itself was Hamlet. This technique made for some very effective moments- the closet scene was performed from Corambis’ (Polonius’) point of view, peering through a crack in the wall, and so we got to see Hamlet thrust his sword through, resulting in the camera falling onto the floor on its side as Corambis died.

Innovative moments kept the performance fresh throughout- the ghost was a small black ninja in Dov’s mouth, the camera going close in as he rolled his tongue and snarled. Fortinbras was a toy robot, hiding on a ledge behind one of the screens (and his Captain was a wind-up toy walking slowly across the floor). Ophelia was drowned in a wine glass, and Osris was ingeniously realised as a toy rabbit on a spring. The duel was performed in mid air between two cameras with swords, and on two occasions Dov brought one of his miniature stages right up to the audience, allowing us to watch it ‘in the flesh’, as it were.

Academically, this production actually had a lot of merit. Dov explained his choice of the Bad Quarto as the control text as it being much shorter and front-loaded with action, which worked perfectly for his 55 minute edit. More importantly though, it was fun- the children in the audience enjoyed it, and it was fast and clear.

In the post-show talk, Dov admitted that when he first put on his ninja show and people laughed, he was quite indignant- “This is Shakespeare!”. He said he now sees the joke and plays up to it, but still the company bills itself as a classical theatre company. This was well-researched, clearly plotted, entertaining and innovative Shakespeare.

With toys.

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Peter Kirwan is Teaching Associate in Shakespeare and Early Modern Drama at the University of Nottingham and a reviewer of Shakespearean theatre for several academic journals.

The Bardathon is his experimental review blog, covering productions of (or based on) all early modern plays. The aim is to combine immediate reactions with the detail and analysis of the academic review.

Theatre criticism always needs more voices. Please comment with your own views and contributions!

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