Hamlet short but sweet: Sea of Troubles by Yorke Dance Project

Clore Upstairs, Royal Opera House, London
October 26, 2017

Charlotte Kasner

Given that he is a feted wordsmith, Shakespeare is remarkably popular with choreographers. The Reduced Shakespeare Company have given us the potted versions in words and now we have the chance again to see MacMillan’s 1988 30-minute dance version of Hamlet.

There’s something to be said for it. Hamlet himself is a considerably less tedious teenager for a start. MacMillan did a fine job of stripping 30,557 words down to their essentials and Webern and Martinu make a perfect accompaniment. Some fine playing from the (musical) players too, reminding that Martinu at least is rather overlooked these days.

MacMillan manages to make quite a lot of the pretty nasty storyline look beautiful. Even the brutalised Ophelia is allowed to be very feminine at times, while Gertrude and Claudius are given great gravitas, their moves literally weighty and grounded. As he ranges in his feigned insanity, Hamlet shows off some lovely lines.

MacMillan gave his dancers plenty of scope to breathe on stage and benefit from the breadth of movement in which he was trained. The Yorke Dance Project performers cover the stage, eating the space with extended limbs. The arras looms in the background, its pinnacles like a soggy, benighted crown, its gilt dulled in the low light.

The dancers swap seamlessly between characters which should be confusing, but such is the clarity of MacMillan’s dramaturgy, it works, at least for someone who knows the plot. There are many choreographers who would benefit from learning a few lessons from Sea of Troubles. It has an innate theatricality that is always serves the audience whereas so many contemporary works seem to be about the people who are creating them, with no one bothering to sit out front and see if they make sense.

MacMillan sensibly glosses over the details of the six murders that Hamlet eventually precipitates. Suffice to say that they just all end up dead at the end. “The rest is silence,” as the man himself concluded.