Hamlet's Game of Thrones
Icarus Theatre Company set out to show Shakespeare as the HBO fantasist of his time in this take on his timeless tragedy
He didn’t coin the marketing line that his new version of Hamlet is aimed at the Game of Thrones generation, but he wishes he had. Chicago-born Max Lewendel, artistic director of Icarus Theatre Collective, is a devoted fan of HBO's medieval fantasy epic, which, as we all know, is filmed in Belfast’s Titanic Studios and on location across the north. That is a fact of which, until now, he had been completely unaware. But it comes as exciting news to him as the company prepares to cross the Irish Sea to perform in the Millennium Forum in Derry~Londonderry, the Riverside Theatre in Coleraine and Theatre at the Mill in Newtownabbey.
'I’ll definitely have to try and book myself on one of those tours,' he says. 'Sounds fantastic.'
'Whether we are working on a classic text or a new play, we tell the story visually, concentrating on the original text but exuding energy, emotion and genuine human reactions,' he explains. 'Our actors do not stand centre stage solemnly declaiming "To be or not to be?" They respond to the emotions of the moment with a kind of kinetic energy that makes direct connections with the audience’s own feelings and brings them right into the core action of the play. We try to mix things up, to do things a little differently. We have cross-cast some of the major roles to make the gender balance more equitable and give it a contemporary relevance to the year 2017. In our ensemble cast, Horatio and Rosencrantz are played by women.
But there is, too, a deeper, sometimes darker aspect to the company’s work as it constantly strives to take on issues from which others would step back. One of those issues is mental health, a subject of which Lewendel freely and frankly admits he has particular and personal experience.
'Some people call Hamlet’s indecision a tragic flaw but it’s more than that. It’s not a flaw; that makes it sound so negative. His problem is that he’s too trusting of people and then they bring him down. It’s a good quality in a person but in someone with his illness, it can be very destructive. I have had my own struggles with depression so this text is very resonant to me; it is something I understand very well. As a practitioner, I believe that you are at your best when you write or act or direct what you know, when you can bring personal experience into the creative process.'
'The company is constantly evolving. Up until fairly recently, I would have been the person choosing the plays. I was really delighted when our sound engineer, who is also a brilliant musician, came to me with an idea. What he had in mind was the first stage adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s chilling novel At the Mountains of Madness. We toured it last year and it was a tremendous success.'
'We have had great experiences in Northern Ireland,' says Lewendel. 'The audiences are so warm and supportive. The first person to bring us over was Jeremy Lewis, who was the manager of the Riverside in Coleraine for many years. We owe a lot to Jeremy’s faith in us. We’ve never played Rip Her to Shreds there and, yeah, maybe now the time is right. I’ll have a think about it, have a chat with the others. It could happen.'
'We set out to destroy boundaries, to explore the beauty of the text and use the skills of the actors to consider themes that are often harsh or brutal. Like Icarus, we are constantly trying to reach for the sun, sometimes going too close for comfort, whether or not we succeed. Come and see our Hamlet and you’ll understand exactly what I mean.'