Ophelias Zimmer (Ophelia's Room)
Presented in German (with English surtitles for Royal Court performances)
Royal Court Theatre, London
May 17-21, 2016
Ophelias Zimmer was a feminist alternative narrative that approached Hamlet from the point of view of the Dane's doomed lover, Ophelia. The action (or lack thereof) all took place in Ophelia's claustrophobic room where repetition enforced the play's reading of the character as a victim ensnared, silenced and aestheticised by Elsinore's patriarchy.
Written by Alice Birch
German translation by Gerhild Steinbuch
Directed by Katie Mitchell
Design: Chloe Lamford
Lighting: Fabiana Picciolo
Sound: Max Pappenheim
Dramaturgy: Nils Haarman
Associate Director: Lily McLeish
Stage Manager: Linsey Hall
Production Manager: Marius Rřnning
Artistic Collaboration: Paul Ready, Michelle Terry
Cast: Iris Becher, Ulrich Hoppe, Jenny König, Glyn Pritchard, Renato Schuch
A Schaubühne and Royal Court co-production
Played December 8-16, 2015, at Schaubühne, Berlin, Germany.
Time Out London review (4 stars): "A Katie Mitchell production is like extreme exercise – you either break through the pain barrier and get into it, or you don’t and belligerently wonder what the point of it all was.
I’m happy to say that I eventually broke through the barrier of Ophelias Zimmer, a show that’s pretty much auteur director Mitchell taken to the nth degree: essentially her idea (with a text by up-and-coming British playwright Alice Birch), it’s billed as ‘a new work exploring Ophelia, freed from Hamlet’, and is performed entirely in German (with English surtitles) and is perhaps wisely – given it’s not exactly commercial catnip – only playing at the Royal Court for a single week."
"Ophelia is presented without Hamlet (the play) but not without Hamlet (the character) – ironically the show really finds its groove after a sequence where Renato Schuch’s unhinged prince bursts in, menaces the tiny Ophelia, then launches into a frenzied beta male dance to Joy Division’s ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’. It ushers in a darkening of tone and a pitch into despair that feels increasingly engrossing, especially as Max Pappenheim’s distorted string score begins to swell and grow.
I’m not sure if Ophelias Zimmer exactly serves as comment on Hamlet – the figure of the prince feels far too extreme. But as a graceful, hypnotic study in sheer, bloody-minded fortitude – specifically the fortitude of a woman digging stubbornly in against a male world in which the odds are hopelessly stacked against her – it has something. Konig’s Ophelia says very little, but her epic, doomed struggle is etched upon her face. And her final act feels less like one of despair than a last gesture of defiance."
The Stage review (3 stars): "Forget Beckett, this is a play in which nothing happens around a hundred times. In one of the very few moments when something happens, the supposed peace of Ophelia’s drowning as described by Gertrude is revealed in its true horror.
Jenny Konig, who had remained mostly silent and consistently impassive as Ophelia, worn down by a life of obedience, snaps when Renato Schuch’s creepy Hamlet brings in the body of her father. After a distraught outburst, her expression goes blank again – like the blank expressions of the maid and the rest of the cast – but without the boredom and acceptance that were there before; now there’s a shade of despair, of complete resignation. It’s a subtle performance, but quietly haunting too.
If the cliche about life flashing before one’s eyes is true, for Ophelia there isn’t much life to flash. But Mitchell, Birch and Lamford give that life their full attention. They value it for all its soul-crushing tedium and, hard as it may be, they challenge us to do the same."
Telegraph review (3 stars): "The feminist point is bluntly made. And yet, laboured though the evening sometimes is, and far-flung from the source-material too, this Ophelia does in her own meek, put-upon way haunt us and ring poignantly true to suffocating life in the upper echelons."
Guardian review (3 stars): "Performed in German, with English surtitles, Ophelias Zimmer explores the world of the character “freed from Hamlet”. Freed perhaps from Shakespeare’s play, in which she only appears in five scenes, but not from the confining limitations of patriarchy, or the expectations for a young woman of her class and gender in the court of Elsinore. Nor indeed from the attentions of Hamlet, who stalks her, relentlessly sending her cassette tapes in which he insists how much he would like to lick “your little wet cunt”. Anyone expecting a feminist reclamation of Ophelia that allows her to take centre stage and remake and change her own story may be disappointed.
Instead, Mitchell turns an almost forensic gaze on Ophelia, bringing her into focus."
"Ophelias Zimmer takes the real ghost at the heart of Hamlet and briefly breathes life back into her before she slips beneath the water and out of view again."
In the Media:
Huffington Post feature “A Vital Reclamation of Female Agency” http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/jessie-thompson/ophelias-zimmer-royal-court_b_10060966.html
Financial Times feature: quotes Katie Mitchell “I’ve always been curious about the scenes we don’t see.”
"On one level, the spin-off play can be a playful literary game, but Mitchell, Birch and Lamford also have serious points to make. It is Ophelia’s legacy that troubles them — particularly that of her death. Ophelia drowns in a brook, but quite how, where and why is mysterious. Is it suicide, accident or murder? Is she mad? Is she pregnant? All we have is Queen Gertrude’s poetic description of her death, so strangely calm and beautiful that some have seen it as a cover story."
"the fact that it has opened first in Germany perhaps makes it easier for the team to be bold. Shakespeare occupies a different space in the literary canon there, and that can lend directors a certain freedom, says Mitchell. They can imagine it in a way that we would never think to imagine it, and that’s quite interesting.
'Listen,' she adds, amiably, 'there are no rules! It’s a manuscript that exists and anyone can make anything from it . . . We’re just saying, ‘OK, so what if we only do her?’ What conversation does that open up about how we represent female characters from sexist times?'"
Katie Mitchell and Chloe Lamford discuss Ophelias Zimmer: