This is the plot of Repertory Philippines’s newest stage production. The story is shocking. It is agonizing. It is violent. And it is over 400 years old.
This is “Hamlet.” And it’s unlike anything you’ve seen before.
Making her directorial debut, Repertory stalwart Ana Abad Santos-Bitong has created a bold new version of Hamlet that strips away all the frills normally associated with a typical Shakespeare production—the flowery costumes, the lavish sets, the British accents--leaving nothing but the raw, brutal story of murder and love and treachery and revenge that is Shakespeare’s most famous work.
This Hamlet is set in a land that has also been stripped to its core: a post-apocalyptic wasteland populated by a brutal race of warriors. “I wanted it to look like otherworldly and yet somehow familiar,” says Bitong. “My idea was that it could be, might be, our own world, perhaps sometime in the future.”
To help bring this harsh realm to life, she enlisted the edgiest young artists she could find: original score composer Jethro Joaquin, stage combat choreographer Paul Morales, costume designer Faust Peneyra, lighting designer Martin Esteva, set designer Denis Lagdameo, who also designed the production’s horrifically original--and very real--weapons, and photographer Jojit Lorenzo.
Though from vastly different fields, they all shared the same vision. “We were all excited about the concept,” says Bitong. “Something more primal, more visceral. In short: Hamlet, stripped down.”
But is it still “Hamlet?” “Definitely,” declares the director. “We’ve stripped the play down to its basic plot, but it’s the same story, the same characters, the same lines.” Bitong, who trained at the prestigious London Academy of Dramatic Arts, feels strongly about keeping the essence of Shakespeare. So why change anything at all? “If you show something familiar in an unfamiliar way,” she explains, “you force people to pay attention.”
Leading the cast is hot young Rep talent Niccolo Manahan, supported by stage veteran Joel Trinidad as Claudius, UP Theater Queen Frances Makil-Ignacio as Gertrude, iconic stage and TV actor Bodjie Pascua as Polonius, and Rep’s newest leading lady Cris Villonco as Ophelia. Rounding out the cast are PETA’s Randy Villarama, Tanghalang Pilipino’s Jerald Napoles, New Voice Company’s Jamie Wilson, rising young theater star Felix Rivera, Ateneo Blue Repertory’s Pom Docena and Red Concepcion, and Rep regulars Jejie Esguerra, Francis Matheu and Hans Eckstein.
“We’ve all just thrown ourselves into it,” Bitong says happily. “We’ve stripped 'Hamlet' naked.” And what is left? An immortal masterpiece about greed, love, vengeance, and passion. “In short,” adds the director, “everything that makes us human.”
“Hamlet” runs February 1-17 at Onstage Greenbelt 1. Call 8870710 or visit www.repertory-philippines.com for ticket information. Tickets also available at Ticketworld (8919999 or www.ticketworld.com.ph).