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My Hamlet means everything to me

7 Sep

an interview with Viktorija Stepanovska who played Ophelia in Dejan Projkovski’s Hamlet

Kaja: Your Hamlet is in some ways referring to the modern history, is that right?
Viktorija: Our Hamlet is a reflection of what happens today, not only in Macedonia, but also in the world. At the press conference someone asked: “Is it a reflection of Macedonia today?”  Hamlet is too great to deal with daily political affairs, that’s what I like about this play. Hamlet is much more significant, it is relevant to what is happening globally today, it gives people hope that they can change the world.

K: The play was very complex on many levels. At first it gave the audience a taste of post-apocalyptic atmosphere, which was created by the opening scene with the naked guards, and then there was that scene where Polonius was washing them, which seemed to be war-related.
V: Well, those scenes referred to the fact that all those people do not have identity, and the king is deciding who is who. That is the arbitrary rule of the dictator, and it speaks about the current situation in which Hamlet lives.

K: Your part was very challenging. As Ophelia you have to face a lot of extreme situations and experience various states of mind. I was wondering how you managed to make it your role, this must have been hard to do.
V: This may sound like a cliché , but I don’t think I’m just playing, pretending to be Ophelia. It has been a really emotional process for me and I can say that during every performance, I am experiencing Ophelia’s feelings. I’ve always wanted to play Ophelia one day. Some people say: “ It is amazing how you can find the balance during the madness scenes”. They ask many questions about my character, but with our team, our director, and our great Hamlet, it was not difficult at all. After some time of rehearsing the play and thinking about the role, playing Ophelia happened naturally. If you try hard enough and search deep inside yourself, you can find a genuine connection with your character and when the audience watches you, they realize  that it’s real, it’s not faking.


K: It seemed to be real, especially the very complicated relationship between Hamlet and Ophelia. How did the two of you get to the point where you got that special connection?
V: There was an audition for Ophelia. I went there and I do not even know how many girls were auditioning for Ophelia, too many. When there are so many talented actresses fighting for the same role, you do not have too high expectations. But when I went on the stage, Dejan, the director, gave us a scene between Hamlet and Ophelia and something happened there, something clicked, there was some chemistry that connected us as partners – actors. During the rehearsals it was growing deeper, and it is not something you can have with any partner, but here, it just happened, the audience can feel that, and I am really proud of it.

K: How did your ‘Shakespeare adventure’ start?
V: I first did Shakespeare when I was in college. Ophelia isn’t my first Shakespearean role, but it’s the most important one, the one to which I gave myself in. I really hope that I get a chance to work on many Shakespearian plays, and this ‘’adventure’’ never stops.

K: So in many ways being in the play and living Shakespeare makes you understand him better?
V: Well, I don’t believe that there’s any human being on earth that will not fall in love with Shakespeare while working on his play. Everything he has written is complex on many levels, and it makes you explore more and more. During every performance, I’m discovering something new about my character, something new that Shakespeare wanted to say. But I don’t think there is a person that knows it all about Shakespeare, he was a genius, and he is still in a way alive.

K: What does Hamlet mean to you, not only as a text, but also as your performance and a human being?

V: Hamlet is one of the saddest and most beautiful stories ever written. It teaches us about life, that we have to go further, and try harder. That we have to love infinitely and unconditionally, and to fight for the ones we love. To Ophelia, Hamlet means her whole life. This role has made me more mature, both as a person and as an actress. I really enjoy playing Ophelia.  After every performance I feel extremely tired, but at the same time full of joy. The applause and cheers from the audience are giving me strength, and I feel as I can play it again and again, million times, with no break between performances. The moments like the one I just described are those that fulfill me, and remind me how much I love what I do.



pictures: Greg Goodale


I, Hamlet

6 Sep

Hamlet. Again. But this time – different. I saw Hamlet so many times, I spent so many hours watching him, it was like learning him by heart, it felt like I know him like the back of my hand. But in real life, you never really know no-one but yourself. And this time I became Hamlet. Hamlet – the heart of the play, and, at the same time, a total outsider, a mere observer.
Sitting in the front row, I felt the growing tension, when all that crept out of the darkness were the breaths and whispers of the actors. And even though they were whispering, or perhaps rather hissing, in a language unknown to me, the tone of their voices sent shivers down my back. Eventually a subtle flame of a candle lit the dim surroundings, unveiling the shadow of an older woman sitting on the ground. She was trembling, the sound of her sobbing would echo across the room. The rest of the actors carefully lifted a table and carried it like a coffin to the front of the stage. And then, in just a second, the atmosphere changed, there was no more despair, it was the beginning of a new era – an era of bitter-sweet insanity and brutish lust. The table, which just a little while ago was the symbol of the King’s coffin, was now bending under the wild passion of all the actors performing an orgy.
Most of the time, the atmosphere of the play was disturbing, manic, nearly diabolic. The stage design was minimalistic, and the lighting was only of the warm colour of candlelight, which gave the performance a special, intimate tinge. Thanks to that, it was easier to focus on the very symbolic and emotional show. The mysterious, sometimes a little dark, music was a perfect addition to the whole performance. In such circumstances, the spectators could feel anxious, confused, perhaps at times even oppressed. The actors were juggling the roles from one to another, none of them was just one character. All of them were constantly trying to establish contact with the audience – their Hamlet. But even then, when it was me who was Hamlet, I still felt like an outsider, like I could not simply fit in and be a part of the world around me. I was there, in the eye of storm, people would address me, and there was nothing I could say, nothing I could do. I was helpless. There was no line for me to say. Although at first I thought that Teatro del Lemming’s director – Massimo Munaro is being whimsical not allowing subtitles during his show, I quickly understood that they really were unnecessary. Why? Because Hamlet will never understand Ophelia anyway, it doesn’t matter if that’s due to the language barrier or to a simple mix-up. As Hamlet I was misunderstood, as a spectator, I was diving into the ocean of the actors’ emotional struggle. My eyes were running from one face to another, trying to catch and understand every metaphorical moment. I was sitting there, enchanted and horrified, watching one of the actresses place a doll in a basin filled with water. And then another actress spoils the clear water by pouring red wine into it. That was the end for Ophelia.
The play was full of symbolism and extreme emotions, everything combined put a stunningly beautiful and unforgettable picture into the viewers’ minds. Even if you didn’t understand a word they said, you could still admire the beauty of sounds. The Italian language is incredibly melodious. And when Hamlet was saying the most important of all words, we all knew that it’s now. I don’t think there’s a person who didn’t understand the last sentence: “Il resto e silenzio” – the rest is silence. When I think of “Amleto”, I’m pretty sure that even this silence was meaningful enough, and suddenly it seemed like our great master Shakespeare, who surely is the king of words, remains a genius even with his ‘feathers’ stripped off. Although the music sometimes made me tremble and feel like I was inside a horror story, it was perfect for the show. I was, and I still am, enchanted. This time I couldn’t fall in love with Hamlet. But I finally got tha chance to understand him. For just a moment I could feel what he felt. And for all that: thank you, Massimo.

pictures: Paolo Ferrari

“Hamlet” means chaos

6 Sep

What’s going on with Hamlet? He’s like everywhere now. “It’s a plentiful hamlet season”, said professor Jerzy Limon at the opening of the Festival. Right, it was and it is Hamlet’s season, first the Polish Hamlets Convention in April, then as many as six different productions of Shakespeare’s most popular play during the Gdansk Shakespeare Festival. And here’s the thing; “Hamlet” is the most popular of Shakespeare’s plays, to many it might even be the best one. On stage, it was done in literally every possible way, now almost every motif seems to be trite. So in such a situation, you can let your imagination go wild, put a variety of trends into one show. Seems a bit risky, though, and as far as “Hamlet” is concerned, the more (effects) isn’t necessarily the better.
The Macedonian staging of Hamlet directed by Dejan Projkovski from the Drama Theatre Skopje kept reminding me of other productions that I’d seen before. This does not mean that the performance was dull and uninteresting, quite the contrary: even though sometimes I’d feel like being in the middle of some artistic chaos and confusion, the show was undoubtedly a treat for the eyes. It would fill the spectators’ minds with beautiful, unforgettable images. To me, there were quite a lot of such wonderful moments, yet two of them made quite an impression on me: Hamlet throwing handfuls of sand at books that he’d put in a circle around him, and Ophelia squatting on Hamlet’s hip with a feather-like subtelty.
Yet sometimes all these beautiful images would not make any sense when joined in one picture in my mind, sometimes some elements would simply not fit in. The opening scene – four naked guards jumping like apes around a metal scaffolding – immediately made me think of post-apocalyptic atmosphere. “Ok, it may be tough, but intersting”, I thought. But then the story-line ‘flipped a U-turn’ and everything changed. Leartes, Claudius, Polonius, Gertrude and Ophelia appeared on stage, all dressed in black, but the clothes and sunglasses they were wearing would make them look more like mafia than like mourners. The performance seemed like a jugglery of too many different trends. The post-apocalyptic tinge quickly changed into a Matrix-like atmosphere, and then the show reached the heights of absurd when the ghost of the King gave Hamlet a sword and then took it back just to use it to make a sandwich.
The stage design was rather impressive, but the ‘aquariums’ where separate scenes would be played (which probably were meant to be something new), reminded me of this year’s production by Dreamthinkspeak company – “The Rest Is Silence”. Projkovski’s “Hamlet” would at times to quite a large extent resemble other productions of Shakespeare’s most popular play, but Deyan Lilich as Hamlet and Viktorija Stepanovska as Ophelia were pretty successful in diverting the audience’s attention from all the drawbacks of the show. There was some kind of ‘chamistry’ between them, their relationship, being so toxic and crazy, made me unable to keep my eyes off of them. Deyan and Viktorija were just outstanding, but, unfortunately, they’d outshine a little the other actors who would at times fade into the background. There’s no one unanimous opinion concerning Projkovski’s “Hamlet”. Some fell in love, some were not convinced byt the story. And as chaotic as this show would seem, it might have actually made sense, since, and here let me quote the great Bard: “Though this be madness, yet there is method in it”, in the end it was that artistic chaos that made the spectators’ leave the theatre with plenty of wonderful images crossing their minds.

pictures: Greg Goodale

Manic masquerade

3 Aug

“Macbeth” is a play that probably everyone has seen. Once or twice, maybe even fifteen or thirty times. “Macbeth” – old or new, in different interpretations. And on the first day of the sixteenth Gdansk Shakespeare Festival, there was another “Macbeth” – old but new, happy-sad, a little bit ‘mingled’.
The queue in front of the TwO Windows Theatre was stretching across the whole Dluga street, opening only for tourists passing by. I could hardly believe that the little theatre would find room for so many people but it did. We sat down on the floor and waited for “Macbeth – theatre impression” to begin. We were welcomed with a short, enthusiastic, and very bilingual speech: “I’m very joyful because it’s just the beginning and it’s our performance, very off, bardzo offowy, jak widzicie (…)”. But the speaker quickly jumped into the crowd and suddenly we found ourselves surrounded (and a little suffocated) by dense smoke.
While still in front of the theatre, I was amused to ‘discover’ that the group which made this production, whose name is Lustra Strona Druga (the Other Side of the Mirror) is in short LSD. After just a little while, I realised that it’s no coincidence as the atmosphere was slightly narcotic, dark, and twisted. We were sitting there in complete darkness when Lady Macbeth appeared on stage. I could hardly see her but I could literally hear her presence as she was constantly washing her hands, rubbing them insistently as if she was trying to rub off the skin. The mix of orange and blue lights gave the audience a psychadelic and disturbing feeling, and everything became even weirder when soft, calm music went on. The music was of a subtle kind, like from some kind of baby toys.
It was all about madness and contrast; one of the most striking elements was the screening of pictures of war, yet they weren’t tragical, more strangely witty: colourful posters presenting soldiers with wide white smiles (and they really weren’t advertising Colgate), pictures of people and even dogs wearing gas masks. Military accents would appear quite often, the actors were wearing gas masks as well. They were running around the stage, barefooted, faceless, wearing uniforms, moving like animals. Perhaps the gas masks were surprising to some people, but unfortunately to me that was nothing new. I was just sitting there as pictures of other productions kept coming to my head. This “Macbeth” would at times resemble (to quite a large extent) performances that I’d seen before. The gas masks appeared in the London production “The Dark Side of Love” no longer than a month ago. And the military elements? I’ve seen that in 2010 in the film directed by Rupert Goold.
The atmosphere of overwhelming madness was at times a little bit obssessive and narcotic. Everyone can imagine Lady Macbeth in their own way but in that show she was love-thirsty and most of the time she was just clinging to her husband’s shirt. At times she was also annoyingly loud and she seemed to be simply obvious in all her madness.
Perhaps the performance wasn’t perfect but when it comes to “Macbeth”, we should bear in mind that it’s really difficult to ‘discover’ something new. The emotional struggle of the actors was something worth seeing. Although sometimes I’d feel like that show was just a ‘reminder’of what I’d seen before, I can’t say that it was lousy or dull. It wasn’t. The madness and animality of the characters running just in front of me was disturbing but it was also in a way fascinating.