If you think it's odd for HAMLET to be played by a woman, you should hear how she learned the part. She did it, admits Angela
Winkler, by talking to wild geese.
Words: Rolf C. Hemke
'I DON'T PLAY A MAN,’ SAYS ANGELA WINKLER, the stunning female star of Peter Zadek‘s Hamlet. ‘1 play the child of parents. I play the son of a mother who becomes widowed and takes her brother-in-Iaw to bed. The play is about a child requiring something of his parents that they cannot begin to fulfil.‘
An extreme and exceptional actress. Winkler is one of Zadek’s favourite performers. And no one who‘s seen this mild- mannered warrior on stage would stop to question the German director‘s decision to cast her in the male lead: Hamlet. we discover. has a female soul. Or if not that. she‘s a child powered by a naive desire to do what is fair. a combination of cruel fury and divine innocence.
‘There is something of the Shockheaded Peter in Hamlet.‘ she says. 'He doesn‘t eat his soup. he is stubborn. he refuses everything. Until I realised this. I thought I could never play Hamlet. It had nothing to do with me. I didn‘t understand what he was saying.‘
Reaching an impasse in rehearsals. Winkler drove to the country and read the play over and over. Only as she began to learn Hamlet's monologues did she begin to understand the character. ‘Like a lonely child. I wanted to recite these passages to someone.‘ she says. ‘Then. walking in the open air. I recited the text to the sound of ducks and wild geese. I needed the country in order to understand something. With the sound of the geese. the monologues became like a call and response. They honked and. in their honking. I somehow experienced the sense of the text. I was not so alone. and so I understood Hamlet. In asking. he always wants an answer. I stood on a milestone and asked the wild geese: "To be or not to be?”
Peter Zadek approaches the play from a rather less personal point of view. Hamlet. he says. is like a story from the Talmud. ‘It contradicts itself and contradicts itself and continues to contradict itself. allowing countless interpretations.‘ he says. Like the bible of Jewish law. Shakespeare‘s tragedy covers every topic of human interest. somehow proving everything without being authoritarian about it. ‘The play is full of questions.‘ says the director. 'In life. questions are beautiful. but answers are always nonsense. because you can never answer the real questions. That is not cynicism. it is the tragedy of being human.‘
At the age of 74. Zadek is the grand old man of German-language theatre. He first
16 THE lIST FESTIVAL GUIDE 24 Aug—2 Sep 2000
Angela Winkler is a Hamlet with a female soul
directed Hum/('1 in NW. and he returns to it now with the perspective of experience. ‘Hum/vt is quite a different play today than it was in the 7()s.‘ he says. ‘It is our function as directors to stage plays again and again in reference to our life. livery day we rehearsed Hum/w. there was a war on television in the evening. ()ur rehearsals were accompanied by the Kosovo disaster. Hum/e! — which. as I see it. is a play of questions — asks the central question: is force justified? Should an intellectual become a murderer."
Zadek believes in updating Shakespeare only in the sense that we inevitably look at the plays from a modern—day perspective. “We identify with people from that time on the stage. but we do it as humans from today.' he says. giving an example. "I‘here is this short scene in the middle of the play where Hamlet meets I9ortinln‘as and his army. Hamlet suddenly becomes a bloodthirsty murderer. Shakespeare was not a writer who wrote according to a pattern. He had probably thought of and asked the question: "What's happening here with this chap?" There‘s a great point to this scene. but it's not pre—meditated. it happens organically. sensually. voluptuously. Hamlet is not a theoretician. but a much more normal human being than we‘re usually lead to believe. If soldiers can murder for nothing. he says to himself. then I must be able It) (It) it tt)t).'
Hamlet (International) Royal Lyceum Theatre, 473 2000, 30 Aug—2 Sep, 6pm, £6—£22.50.