A couple of nights ago, I had a drink with Dr. Luke, a friend, scholarly colleague, and fellow Bardolator. The subject of Hamlet came up, or rather, I brought it up, because after writing to the silent blogosphere about it for a month, I was desperate for some dialogue about the play. I’ve only begun to write about my own production ideas, but believe me, they are legion, and I realized I needed some help sorting them out.
We covered a lot of ground, discussing our favourite film versions, the female Hamlet question, the best way to approach Ophelia and Gertrude and all the potential pit-traps those characters represent, and more. But the biggest personal revelation came when we were discussing staging styles. After going on at length about the Ghost, I told Dr. Luke I wanted a somewhat expressionistic design, where the “rottenness” of Denmark becomes visible, tangible even, as if we were peering into Hamlet’s head, to see what a diseased perspective he holds (or has had thrust upon him).
SS: But when I say “expressionistic,” I don’t want it to be inaccessible. A friendly-yet-creepy style, like Tim Burton.
DL: What you’re describing makes me think of that effect in the Harry Potter movies, when the Dementors draw in your breath. Like the air is poisonous.
Up to that point in my brainstorming, I’d never actively sought for an “X meets Y” formula for describing what I wanted out of my Hamlet. But as soon as Dr. Luke said “Harry Potter,” I lunged for my notebook (“My tables! Meet it is I set it down!”) and scribbled it down: “Harry Potter meets Tim Burton.”
Tim Burton’s icky-spooky aesthetic, on display in Edward Scissorhands, Beetlejuice, and Sleepy Hollow, as well as the stop-motion films The Nightmare Before Christmas and The Corpse Bride. A corrupt and haunted Elsinore, grotesque yet not gory, like a childish caricature of genuine horror. Because the horror is filtered through Hamlet’s imagination, puerile in its haste to lump, say, female sexuality into the pit with murder and putrescence. The world according to Hamlet, a disturbed intellectual young man. And Hamlet…
Well, Hamlet is Harry, isn’t he? I’d never seen it before, but it didn’t surprise me that plenty of other perceptive viewers have already documented the similarities, in prose and video alike. Hamlet is Harry, Claudius is Voldemort, and Elsinore is Hogwart’s.
And we’re off!