Hamletmachine (in German, Die Hamletmaschine) is a postmodernist drama by German playwright and theatre director Heiner Müller. Written in 1977, the play is loosely based on Hamlet by William Shakespeare. The play originated in relation to a translation of Shakespeare's Hamlet that Müller undertook. Some critics claim the play problematizes the role of intellectuals during the East German Communism area; others argue that the play should be understood in relation to wider post-modern concepts. Characteristic of the play is that it is not centred on a conventional plot, but partially connects through sequences of monologues, where the protagonist leaves his role and reflects on being an actor.
The play is constituted of scenes. The whole text is roughly nine pages long. The script itself is extremely dense and open to interpretation; recurring themes include feminism and the ecology movement.
The play remains Müller's most-often performed and (arguably) his best-known today; Müller himself directed a seven-and-a-half hour performance of Hamlet (in which Die Hamletmaschine was the play-within-a-play) in Berlin in 1990.
The play has been performed as a radio drama, including music by Einstürzende Neubauten, that was later released as a compact disc. Blixa Bargeld played the part of Prince Hamlet and Gudrun Gut played Ophelia. It had its American premiere in Tampa, Florida with the Freiese Theatre of Munchen in 1984, and was subsequently revived by Robert Wilson at New York University in 1986.
The British premiere of the play was in London at the Gate Notting Hill on March 7th 1985, in a double bill with Heiner Muller's Mauser, both directed by Paul Brightwell, who had previously directed a student production of Muller's Cement at the University of Essex . The production of Hamletmachine was described as "a stage teeming with images" and "an electrifying message from East Germany" by Nicholas De Jongh in the Guardian.
The play has been set to music by composer Georges Aperghis, as Die Hamletmaschine-Oratorio, and by Wolfgang Rihm as an opera, Die Hamletmaschine. Ruth Zechlin wrote "Szenische Kammermusik nach Heiner Müllers “Hamletmaschine”" for five instruments in 1991.
In 1992, the play was presented by the University of California, Irvine, directed by Keith Fowler, as a bloody fantasy set in a "Frankenstein laboratory," in which industrial meat hooks served to "float" Ophelia. In 2002, the Los Angeles Times published a 35 year retrospective of cutting edge art "on the wilder side," and UC Irvine's Hamletmachine was one of five "bloodiest" events listed.
In 1992 Josef Szeiler and Aziza Haas elaborated the Hamletmachine in Tokyo in parallel to a production of Shakespeare's Hamlet by the Tokyo Engeki Ensemble, known for its traditional Brecht adaptations, which was confronted with the open and experimental approach Szeiler and Haas had first developed as members of TheaterAngelusNovus. The project resulted in a new translation of the Hamletmachine into Japanese and 15 experimental performances ranging from 45 minutes to 12 hours. It was documented in the book HamletMaschine.Tokyo.Material.
In 2007 it was performed in the Samuel Beckett Theatre in Dublin, Ireland. Paul Carton directed an ensemble cast to the delight of audiences and critics alike.
In 2010, Wang Chong directed the first production of Hamletmachine in China. References to the Chinese and North Korean political situations caused controversy. However, the show has toured Beijing and Hangzhou without getting banned. The show was performed by four Chinese opera actors and one child. Critics called it "deconstructed Chinese opera" and "the most exciting work at the Beijing International Youth Theatre Festival."
In 2013, Citi Garage Theatre in Santa Monica, CA premiered Opheliamachine, a postmodernist drama by the Polish-born American playwright and dramaturg, Magda Romanska. Opheliamachine was a response to Heiner Mueller’s Hamletmachine. The production received critical acclaim from many LA-based media.
- Die Hamletmaschine (with Blixa Bargeld), Rough Records 1991
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