Last updated March 13th 2016
It’s not every night that one can spend an intimate evening with Hamlet, Richard II, and Richard III. Itay Tiran and Omri Nitzan opened the Cameri Theatre’s Shakespeare Festival with Loving Shakespeare: a glimpse behind the scenes of Cameri productions from the perspective of actor and director, respectively, as well as monologues from the plays and video clips of select scenes.
It was fun to hear about Itay Tiran’s nightmares regarding Hamlet, and Omri Nitzan’s vision for the play, not just in terms of the distinctive staging – setting the audience in the middle of the action – but the interpretation of Hamlet as a youth struggling to define himself as an adult. It was magical to see Itay Tiran discuss Shakespeare, talking to the audience as if we were all sitting together having a casual conversation, and then, without costume or props, transform himself in an instant, from within, and become Hamlet or Richard II. Covering everything from iambic pentameter to the witches in Macbeth, the talk was lively and I think we all felt a bit closer to the Bard tonight.
The Q & A following the talk not only gave the audience a chance to ask and comment, but also gave the two speakers a chance to talk about issues close to their heart. On the issue of presenting Shakespeare in Hebrew, Nitzan noted that the necessity of translation both offers and demands an interpretation of the play. For Hamlet they worked with a translation originally made by the poet T. Carmi, which was edited by Dan Almagor while comparing the various existing editions in English. It was interesting to learn that the poet Avraham Shlonsky’s translation of Hamlet was made from Russian to Hebrew.
When the discussion turned to translation, Tiran spoke passionately in favor of contemporary translations, saying that translations that are overly reverent of Shakespeare’s work and carried out with didactic precision and awe, may create a barrier between the stage and the audience.
“Using Shakespeare as a sacred object,” said Tiran, “to put him up on a high shelf, makes him feel inaccessible [to audiences], it is an injustice.” He further noted that Shakespeare’s language spans a wide range from curses and the language of the market, to that of poetry, philosophy and the Royal Court.
Although he said that Shlonsky’s translation is wonderful, he made the distinction between reading the plays and their performance. Hebrew was reborn as a living language not so long ago, and is constantly in the process of change and renewal. A contemporary translation that takes present-day usage into account lets the audience approach Shakespeare with greater ease and intimacy.
Yet for me, the high point of the evening came at its close, when 13 year old Neta Roth asked a very sophisticated question (quoting from Shakespeare in perfect English!) regarding the paradox between Hamlet’s hesitation to kill Claudius while the latter is at prayer (and thus sending him to Heaven) and Hamlet’s dying words: “The rest is silence.” Tiran discussed Shakespeare’s ability to present different and contradictory aspects of Hamlet’s character and concluded by saying once more that it is important to keep Shakespeare accessible to young people, and for Shakespeare and other classics to be an integral part of the education system.
Which left this audience member and Shakespeare lover very curious to know how Neta first encountered the Bard. Well, as a fan of David Tennant (Dr. Who for the uninitiated), she watched him play the role of Hamlet in a BBC production, and, she told me: “I had an obsession for Hamlet from that day.” Currently working on a project on Hamlet for school, she has also come to know Richard II & III very well, thanks to Itay Tiran. Born and raised in Israel, she told me all this in perfect English. So yes, please, let’s keep reading Shakespeare in schools, on the beach and on the train, and yes, more and more Shakespeare on the stage!