Edinburgh 2013: Hamlet - The Wooster Group's efforts are like an elaborate parlour game


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The Independent Culture

There is much to admire in the Wooster Group's technically impressive splicing of Richard Burton’s 1964 Broadway Hamlet with a live performance in a Victorian theatre.

Burton’s testosterone-charged take on the troubled prince was filmed live with 17 cameras, edited, shown twice and then filed away. Rediscovered, it has been re-edited so the breathing works with the poetry. As it jumps, dissolves and fades on the big screen at the back of the stage, the cast jerks into positions that exactly match the action to their rear. Their voices merge and duet with the crackling recording. It is terribly clever.

What it isn't, and can't be, is fresh, or moving, or even absorbing. (The jumpy editing, occasional switches to another filmic Hamlet and Scott Shepherd's jumping from the troubled prince to the director requesting a fast forward make sure of that.) Instead of committing to the drama we are invited to admire the references, muse on the nature of ghosts and contemplate the ephemeral nature of theatre itself.

Shepherd's performance, while hugely accomplished, can't be anything but hollow. He is inhabiting the husk of Burton, aping his movements, speaking with his voice at some points. It's not quite karaoke, more of an unbalanced duet. Kate Valk, switching between Kate and Gertrude, comes closest to bringing emotion to the screens and cameras on stage.

The result feels like an over-elaborate parlour game in which not everyone knows the rules. During the interval people ask others, anxiously, if they are enjoying it. The effort of engaging with the electronic trickery makes it almost impossible to relax into the poetry. The soliloquies still sparkle but they are fragments among the feedback.

To 13 August (0131 473 2000)