The adaptation of Hamlet by Teatro de Los Andes is sublime, visually arresting and poignant. At one hour and twenty minutes it is a fleeting, yet very intense journey into the world of Shakespeare and modern Bolivia. The ensemble comes from a tiny village of Yotala and it is their first visit to the United Kingdom, but their work is well-known all over the world and since 1991 they have produced 21 plays.
The principal actors of the company, Lucas Achirico, Gonzalo Callejas and Alice Guimares, play seamlessly several roles each, managing to create individual distinct characters with just a different piece of clothing, a change in posture or voice intonation. For instance, Lucas Achirico as Claudius exudes a dangerous macho aura around him, while his Polonius is a middle-aged fat man who is an amiable fool. Gonzalo Callejas is a surprising Hamlet: short and plump, yet at the same time physically fit enough to carry on his back the main piece of stage design, a huge table that doubles as a door. Alice Guimares enchants as Ophelia: she is at the same time fragile and strong, inhibited and expressive.
To Alice Guimares also belongs the most beautiful moment of the production. After Ophelia’s death her body rests on the table from which water trickles into several metal cups located on the floor in a row. Indeed water has a central place in the performance, and is used ritualistically and whimsically making the performance organic and palpable. This tableau-like scene in Hamlet de Los Andes is just one of many the audience can feast their eyes on. Unforgettable are also Claudius’s slow motion dance or Hamlet perched on a box in the doorway and laughing quietly.
However, the performers juxtapose those moments of reflection and visual contemplation with outbursts of energetic stage movement and slapstick humour that involves drunken dancing and even female wrestling. Music is one of the strongest elements of the production as well, and varies from solo accordion pieces to vigorous Latine songs.
Teatro de Los Andes’ Hamlet is a virtuoso adaptation that feels universal despite the fact that it is specifically devoted to the plight of dispossessed Bolivians who try to make a new life in the corrupt cities where they face poverty or even death. The performance is peppered with elements of Andean culture but does not overwhelm essentially Shakespearean story. Hamlet laments the death of Ophelia using Quechua dialect and at one point we get to see traditional Bolivian folk costumes in the funniest Mousetrap scene you will ever see. I sincerely hope that the ensemble from Bolivia will visit the British Isles more often because they make theatre that is genuine, intelligent and affecting.