Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Shakespearean total immersion

On the weekend I saw an uncut performance of Shakspeare's Hamlet. The play is (in)famous for (potentially) being too long and almost all stage or film versions make quite substantial cuts. This version - at the Burgtheater in Vienna and directed by Andrea Breth - played every last line and lasted almost six hours. It started at 5.00 and finished at 11.00 pm!

Many people complain that cultural life is forced to take a back seat in a world dominated by the economy. Six hours of theatre is the perfect opportunity to reverse the relationship. Such an expansive performance creates a cultural total immersion. As the lights go down (and in this case they go out in a dramatic flash) you think to yourself, forget the rest of the world, this is now your home for the foreseeable future, give yourself over to it, allow yourself to become part of Elsinore and the narrative. What happens to Hamet, Gertrude, Claudius and the rest, is also happening to you. 

Six hours is too long to think about where you might go after the show, to worry about the business meeting you have first thing the next morning, to think about checking your emails. Yet performances that last more than about two hours seem untenable today. Even those who want culture to have greater importance don't want it to eat into their time too much. There are a few exceptions, but in general our attention span has shortened and our willingness to give ourselves over to a performance for a large chunk of our day is limited. What a pity that is. A complete Hamet is certainly one that puts culture where it belongs: at the centre of life!

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