He’s a man of many talents. Next month Mark Wilson will write, direct and star in the production of Anti-Hamlet. An International Fellow of Shakespeare’s Globe, Mark has been described as a ‘chronic Shakespeare tinkerer’ Time Out. His radical excavations of Shakespeare’s iconic plays – Unsex Me and Richard II have toured the country to critical acclaim, and Anti-Hamlet is shaping up to be equally bold. Mark talks to theatremaker Dan Giovannoni about what we can expect from Anti-Hamlet.
This is the third Shakespeare text you’ve adapted/’excavated’ – what are you digging for in there?
I’m looking for why I love Shakespeare so much: what’s the elemental thing in there that makes it such great theatre.
Well, it’s the use of language, and it’s the understanding of theatre as a poetic medium, not just a series of things that people do. But mostly it’s the gaps. When you say so much so well, it creates what Heiner Muller calls an avalanche of images, which overwhelms and provokes far beyond what the playwright has written. Shakespeare writes in the heads of the audience as well as on the page.
I’m also looking, on the other hand, for what doesn’t work, or what doesn’t work anymore. In what ways have we outgrown Shakespeare, the greatest writer ever? There’s no democracy in there, in any modern sense. There’s no third wave feminism. There are passages and bits of action in there which point to things which are very now, but it’s very important for me to make the distinction between what is actually there and what I want to be there. There’s no Australia in Shakespeare, for instance. Let’s not kid ourselves about that: there is no depiction of an Australian experience.
That seems like a particular concern in this trilogy, right? Particularly in Richard II and in Anti-Hamlet – we’re implicated.
Uhuh: as there is no Australian experience in there, audiences are asked either to silently accept a substitute (and end up identifying with England and what is “English”), or audiences are asked to get in there and wrestle. I’m a fan of the wrestle, and as a writer my adaptations are never really whole, there’s always the invitation, the necessity to wrestle.
You’re an International Fellow of Shakespeare’s Globe – what happened in the time you spent at the Globe? Did it change your relationship to Shakespeare?
That was a big crazy experience in a very condensed period of time. We were there, ten of us, from all over the world, for six weeks and we worked six days a week, from at early as 7 or 8am to as late as 1 or 2am. We worked with the theatre’s heads of voice, movement and verse. It was amazing to meet people from all over the world who had a passion for Shakespeare, and quite incredible to receive a heavy download of pretty traditional Shakespeare training. Two things I have taken with me: a richer and more complex understanding of how Shakespeare uses verse and how he encourages actors to use it; and how extraordinarily physical Shakespeare’s theatre was: in the round, performed unamplified to 2000 people sitting literally 360 degrees around the performers. And of course, there ain’t no fourth wall in the Elizabethan theatre: look the audience in the eye, or die a slow death.
Even though this is a much bigger work than Unsex Me and Richard II, you’re still at the heart of Anti-Hamlet as writer, director and lead. Can you speak about the experience of being at the centre of a work like this?
This is the biggest project I’ve been so completely in the middle of. Normally you have partners in crime in these roles, or, like in Unsex Me or Richard II, the whole team is so small that everyone is a partner. Anti-Hamlet is like that in that I’m surrounded by partners in crime (and what criminals!) but also different because of the scale. While we are rewriting as we go on this as well, we had a long time with me wearing my writer hat, which was not how it worked on Unsex Me and Richard II, which was all about juggling hats all over. This has plenty of hat juggling!!! Most of all though, this process is like any other process of mine: about empowering my collaborators to create a shared ownership over the work. There’s a lot of me in this – as a writer, director, actor – but it’s really the equation me plus everyone else equalling something I couldn’t make on my own. When you’re as inside a work as I am on this one, you really need to be able to trust those sitting on the outside, which is why the team is so especially important on this one.
It’s an extraordinary team – and what a cast! Have all of them played Shakespeare before? Are they playing Shakespeare now?
I have to pinch myself every time I go to rehearsal. They’ve all done Shakespeare before, and certainly they are all great text actors. I love actors who really love words and rhythms and know how to wield them. But nope, most of the actors don’t get a single line of Shakespeare in Anti-Hamlet. There are a couple of parodies of lines, which people who know the original will enjoy, but other than that it’s new text from start to finish.
Was Shakespeare political? Is Anti-Hamlet political? You’re a massive pinko leftie, right?
A group planning to overthrow Elizabeth I paid for a production of Shakespeare’s Richard II to incite a popular rebellion. It didn’t work, but the fact they tried suggests the theatre-politics dynamic has been bubbling a very long time! Anti-Hamlet is a show which is engaged with a whole lot of stuff, and asks a bunch of questions about all sorts of things. It definitely asks about what it is to be Australian. If you’re looking for politics, you won’t have trouble finding it!
Anti-Hamlet Season: 03 -13 November 2016
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