Is the despair of the individual the hope for the collective?

Director Emily Louizou sends us updates from the rehearsal room!

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It hasn’t really happened to me before – at least not to this extent – but I feel like I keep rediscovering this text again and again. I had read somewhere that Müller said that his texts are often written in such a way that every sentence only shows the tip of the iceberg; “what lies beneath is nobody else’s business.” And this, indeed, is the case for Hamletmachine!

Every day in rehearsals we read and listen to Müller’s piercing words, and each day we hear it in a new way, we ‘understand’ it better. But then… we come to the conclusion that this text is not really supposed to be understood, at least this does not seem to be its purpose. During the first couple of days of rehearsals I could see actors wondering, “Will anyone understand it like that?” But it’s not about that kind of understanding: it has to be experienced, taken in somehow. It might be understood later, and this will be the magic of it!

The script’s fragmentary structure, grotesque imagery and rich language allow the play to touch on a lot of contemporary issues. So much that we all keep wondering how can it have been written almost 40 years ago. It resonates so much with what is going on in Europe today. Müller was writing during a difficult time for Germany, when the whole country was divided, and Berlin had become a “barbed-wire prison” separated by a wall. For Müller, the GDR was in a state of paralysis, and he explicitly speaks in Hamletmachine about the “ruins of Europe.” Like in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the time is out of joint not simply because of his father’s death but because of the chaos, the disorder implicit in Claudius’s regicide and usurpation. The play first appeared in 1977 – emerging as it did from the shadow of the Cold War and the author’s own ambivalence about western mass culture. Can the UK referendum and Brexit be likened to the Berlin wall; waking up in a different country, a different city – divided by a metaphorical wall? Some newspapers have, indeed, referred to the Brexit as ‘the most critical moment for Europe since the Berlin Wall.’

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What we want to talk about, being a group of young people in Europe of 2016, is about the identity crisis that we feel our country and ourselves within this world are going through. More importantly, we need to speak through Müller’s words about the need for change. But as Müller’s Hamlet seems to gradually understand, you first have to know who you are in order to bring about any change. He speaks of a failed revolution – a failed personal and social revolt – about people who do not have the strength to bring about any change and end up trapped in a present they cannot bear.

One key line has been shaping our approach to the play, and this is the epigraph of T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land. This canonical poem, fragments of which can be found in Müller’s own text, was written after the chaos of World War I. With a sole sentence taken from the first century A.D. – from Petronius’s Satyricon – Eliot sets the tone for the state the whole of Europe was in: “For I once saw with my own eyes”; states the poem’s epigraph, the Cumean Sibyl hanging in a jar, and when the boys asked her, “Sibyl, what do you want?” she answered, “I want to die”. Sibyl was a prophetess who could not die because the Gods had made her immortal, even though she would age. Imagine being trapped in a body – or in a life – which gets older and older, more and more tired, and having no way to escape it.

And this is what the characters in our production of Hamletmachine experience: even though relationships, identities, bodies, fall apart, the characters cannot escape their prison. But for anything new to begin, we have to let the old die first. And by old we mean our fears, our preconceived ideas and mentality which hold us back. Hamletmachine is about ruins, but we believe that something good can indeed arise from a ruined world – only if we fight to bring about the change we need!