The Japanese theatre director Yukio Ninagawa is eighty this year, and to celebrate he’s bringing his production of Hamlet to the Barbican Theatre. Those of you who saw his production of Cymbeline at the Barbican in 2012 have no doubt bought your tickets already – for the rest of you, this is a heads-up. Ninagawa has spent his life producing Shakespeare – so much so that Ninagawa Shakespeare is a recognised genre. This production of Hamlet is his eighth staging of the work.
Ninagawa reached British consciousness with his cherry blossom Macbeth at the Edinburgh Festival in 1985. He’s staged twenty-nine of Shakespeare’s thirty-seven works so far, starting with Romeo and Juliet in 1974, and looks to be on course to complete the canon, even if he does keep revisiting works like Hamlet.
Each production of Hamlet is different. His first production, in 1978 was highly stylised in the Japanese tradition; his 2004 production for the Royal Shakespeare Company featured barbed wire on a bare stage.
In this production Hamlet is played by Tatsuya Fujiwara in his second outing in the role; he first played the part in 2003 at the age of twenty one. He’s probably best known in the West for his starring role in the film Battle Royale with Beat Takeshi.
Ophelia Is played by Hikari Mitsushima, who started her stage career as a member of the Okinawan pop group, Folder 5 but has since built a strong career in films where she’s noted for her energy and determination.
Gertrude is played by legendary Takarazuka star Ran Ohtori, who also starred in Ninagawa’s Cymbeline. After a record-breaking nine years as top star at the wildly popular Takarazuka Revue, Ohtori went on to great success as Momma Rose in Gypsy and was awarded the Medal with Purple Ribbon (a bit like being made a Dame) in 2005.
So what can we expect this time? In his program notes for the current production, Ninagawa says: ‘At the beginning of the play, with the first line “Who’s there?” (spoken by a guard on duty one misty night) Shakespeare asked us our identity. Now I am answering that question (of who I am) with this play.’