Something is rotten in the state of Denmark. Or at least in the rubbish tip of Shoreham-by-Sea, which forms the malodorous backdrop for an ambitious new take on Hamlet, opening this weekend.
The Rest is Silence is the latest production from the exhilarating site-specific theatre company dreamthinkspeak. A multimedia deconstruction of Hamlet, which aims to expose the play's "messy underbelly", it will take place in a 1,130sqm warehouse, previously home to a "vacuuming solutions" company, on an unlovely industrial estate, opposite a scrapyard and down the road from the local tip.
"We're between Southwick and Shoreham. On one side is the coastal road to Brighton and on the other is a railway line. It's a very betwixt and between place, somewhere that is awaiting its identity," says Tristan Sharps, artistic director of dreamthinkspeak. "And Hamlet is a very betwixt and between play. There's something unrooted about it. It's always a mirror to the world we live in."
Once inside the warehouse, audience members will enter a "multi-reflective" space and embark on their own 90-minute journey through the play. "It's like being in a kaleidoscopic, 3D art gallery," says Sharp. "Or being immersed inside a film."
The show is the prestige ticket at this year's Brighton Festival, and a co-commission with London International Festival of Theatre and the RSC's World Shakespeare Festival; it will travel to Riverside Studios in Hammersmith and Newcastle's Northern Stage in June. The company's last show, Before I Sleep, a breathtakingly beautiful take on Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard set in an abandoned department store, became the biggest selling show in Brighton Festival's history, attracting 21,000 people over its extended run.
Since its beginnings in 1999, the company has fused literary classics, theatre and unexpected locations to ever more stunning effect, from a promenade version of The Divine Comedy in Liverpool Cathedral to a murky Crime and Punishment in a disused abbatoir in Clerkenwell. Its take on the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, Don't Look Back, toured the world in 2003, stopping off at a print factory in Moscow and an abandoned luxury hotel in Kuala Lumpur. Next up is a show about Leonardo da Vinci for Somerset House in London and a piece inspired by the 1980 Gwangju uprising in South Korea, which will premiere in the place where it happened.
The Rest is Silence is the company's second attempt at unlocking the heart of Shakespeare's greatest play. Its first show in 2002, Who Goes There?, was a deconstructed Hamlet that played out in the nooks and crannies of Battersea Arts Centre – "long before it became fashionable to do that", says Sharps. "But I felt the play got lost. Always, the chopping-up of the play is an attempt to understand it, not just to make a funky version of it. I'd never dream of doing a definitive Hamlet. I'd rather leave that to someone else. And I'm sure I'll come back to it again in the future."
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