As the audience is admitted into the palatial auditorium of the splendid, recently restored, Municipal Theatre of Piraeus, an actor onstage – seated in a dressing table with bright lights around the mirror – applies and corrects his makeup. Even before the opening of the play, it is evident that Alone with Hamlet is not a conventional rendering of the Shakespearean tragedy.
Hamlet, in the original play, is distressed by the sudden death of his father, King of Denmark, and disturbed by the subsequent marriage of his mother to his uncle Claudius, the deceased’s brother. When the ghost of his dead father appears before him and reveals that it was his own brother who murdered him, revenge becomes the sole purpose of Hamlet’s life.
In this 75-minute version, Chilakis – dressed in a black suit throughout the performance – carries the weight of the whole show on his shoulders, assuming as many as eight roles. The visual aids employed and the different types of seats occupied by each character help the audience discern between them. Thus, Claudius is seated on a metal chair wearing a crown; Ophelia on a swing holding a basket full of plastic dolls; Gertrude in the dressing table applying her makeup. Polonius is associated with a clown doll, while the ghost of the dead King is visualized by an empty coat and a plain paper mask. It needs incredible energy and very good technique to slip seamlessly from one role to the other, without satirizing or caricaturing the characters; and Chilakis seems to have both. The set, versatile as it is, is very helpful in this respect.
The opening of the curtain reveals a bare stage with just a metal wheeled trunk, many colourful balloons – alluding to the happy atmosphere of the wedding party – and four glass moving panels, made opaque by a thin dust-like layer. The actor moves these panels around the stage during the show, using them as doors or dividers of the space or boards on which he writes and sketches using his fingers and palm.
As the play approaches its end, seated in the dressing table again, he speaks while removing his makeup. After he finishes, he stands up and addresses the spectators. In this very monologue it becomes evident that what is distinct about this show, is not only its metatheatricality or its radical staging. The so often quoted Hamletian dilemma ‘to be or not to be’ is now heard for the first time; but that’s not the question anymore.
Dounias and Chilakis’ version of Shakespeare’s Hamlet is a political reading of the tragedy, born out of indignation and exasperation over what is happening in the country these days. The question in Alone with Hamlet is not anymore whether life is worth living, but how it is worth living: without avoiding a touch of didacticism, Chilakis/ Hamlet urges the audience to think what is preferable, a life without (re)action or dying for a cause. Think and subsequently act, because thinking alone and putting the blame on others will never make a difference. “But you have to be in a hurry”, he concludes. “People’s faces are angry. Terrible things are about to happen in the world”.