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  • To be in Berlin: Inside Globe Berlin’s open-air production of Hamlet


To be in Berlin: Inside Globe Berlin’s open-air production of Hamlet

Inspired by elements of traditional Japanese theatre, the Globe Berlin's upcoming production of 'Hamlet' is a theatre highlight this summer.

Urfaust, Globe Berlin. Photo: IMAGO / Martin Müller

Mathias Schönsee, a veteran director, writer and songwriter, has loved Shakespeare since he surreptitiously read the Bard’s complete oeuvre during his mandatory military service, his focus on the books under his desk rather than the lessons on war and tanks. With two summer productions at Globe Berlin under his belt, he’s been tirelessly preparing his third piece for the outdoor stage, Hamlet, set to premier in July. Schönsee met with The Berliner to share his vision of the “revenge-thriller” and his choice to draw inspiration from Japanese theatre.

Often, we think of Hamlet as a figure of interiority, bathed in shadows. Did it feel like a challenge to stage it outside? 

Shakespeare’s pieces are actually written for outside. We forget that sometimes, because we have grown accustomed to them taking place in theatres in Germany – in interior rooms, which were especially conceived for theatre and have a specific architecture. But it was written for the Globe Theatre [in London], which was open. You could see the sky above – from which rain would fall.

It will sound different from anything anyone’s yet seen at the Globe.

And [the show] took place with the weather. That was also a specific theatrical architecture, which also brought concentrated attention onto the stage. What you’re describing as your imagination of Hamlet, this interiority, that was actually something that the German Romantics made out of it. It was only after Goethe that Hamlet became this brooder and thinker, who gives these subtle monologues.

I can’t get away from the idea of Hamlet as something wintry and dark – especially in comparison to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which you directed last year, or the Globe’s headliner from the year before, The Tempest. How would you describe the mood of the production? 

Of course, Hamlet has something rather dark about it – because the piece starts with a period of mourning, where the king, Hamlet’s father, is dead, and Hamlet wears black for the entire piece. But I would not say that it has a winterly heaviness or slowness. The piece is also a revenge thriller, as we would call it today, by a young man who is driven by a multitude of feelings – to which love also belongs. Disappointment. Frustration. The hope to make things somehow better and right. All these things come together in this young man. And he is a star of his time. It is always said again and again, how much the people love and honour him.

Mathias Schönsee. Photo: Thorsten Wulff

In this way, we also have to imagine Hamlet a little like a celebrity, that he is loved perhaps like a rockstar or one of today’s royals. As a result this piece has a very, very strong driving energy, a shimmering energy. So actually, I do not see it as wintry. It is, of course, written as a six- or seven-hour-long performance, as was normal in Shakespeare’s time. The people then spent the day in the theatre, they ate there and drank there, and they slept there. We now boil this down into a concentrate that lasts only two hours and whose pace is more in line with what we’re currently accustomed to – television series and the like – which is very fast.  

How did you approach putting on this classic text? What were your influences? 

The jumping-off point is always reading the text. I find it also always interesting to bring together things that at first do not seem to fit together. And because Hamlet has such strong language and a strong picture, it needs a frame to hold it together and help the audience focus. And because of this, I’ve occupied myself with Japanese theatre – Kabuki theatre and Nō theatre. We have borrowed some dramaturgical elements. We’re not doing Japanese theatre, it’s important to note, but we have taken inspiration from some principles of this theatre.

We have a dancer-choreographer-movement trainer with us, who works with the actors and actresses on a particular form of physicality, so that we will arrive at a theatrical language that will produce – in combination with this classical text – something that you do not see so often. I believe it is rather unusual how we’re working here – a combination of a Far-Eastern dramaturgy and performance and a very classic European text from the Renaissance. 

It was only after Goethe that Hamlet became this brooder and thinker, who gives these subtle monologues.

The Euros are on this summer, and you’re a member of Autonoma, the German Authors National Team. Are you worried about competition between sport and theatre this summer? 

I wouldn’t say competition, but I am very involved with Autonoma. Just yesterday we had our European Cup here in Berlin. There were eight teams from Europe and the German Autonoma won the tournament. I make it a priority to go to training and be with the team on Wednesday evenings. But our premiere is on a Thursday, which means that on Wednesday, we’ll have our dress rehearsal.  And then I won’t be able to go to practice. 

You’re also a songwriter, and music featured heavily in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Can audiences expect music in Hamlet?

There is music, but it is actually more inspired by Japanese theatre. It will sound different from anything anyone’s yet seen at the Globe.

  • Globe Berlin, Sömmeringstr. 15, Charlottenburg, performances of Hamlet in English and German, from July 12 through Sep 15, details.

*On July 31, The Berliner will host the dress rehearsal of Hamlet (original version), and we’ll be raffling complimentary tickets through our weekly newsletter! Subscribe here for a chance to win.