Over 400 years ago, Prince Hamlet stalked the corridors of Kronborg Castle, pondering whether he should kill his uncle in revenge for murdering his father and seizing the throne. William Shakespeare’s play may be fiction, but the setting is not. Kronborg Castle still stands by the coast in Helsingør, where Hamlet has been performed since at least 1816.
For the past decade, the performances have taken place as part of the Shakespeare Festival and been hosted by HamletScenen. It’s a unique setting – an open-air theatre on the grounds of Kronborg Castle. Before the performance, guests can eat at a restaurant on the castle ramparts, or buy a quality picnic to eat al fresco.
This year’s performance of Hamlet, which runs from August 1 to 19, features two young Danish actors in the lead roles of Hamlet and Ophelia – Cyron Melville and Natalie Madueño – while 25-year-old electronic music producer Mike Sheridan will create the score.
We spoke to Lars Romann Engel, the play’s director as well as CEO and artistic director of HamletScenen, about this year’s performance.
How does this show break with the way Hamlet is traditionally told?
It’s important to make Shakespeare performances relevant and interesting to a modern audience. This is obviously a young cast filling the younger roles – but the whole approach that we take is very young. I don’t want to make museum theatre. The old tradition in the UK is very conservative, as it’s more dangerous for them to modernise the play. But we can do it because we are outside the UK and have a different mentality – the rules for us are different.
Was this also why you chose to include a young producer such as Mike?
We have Mike Sheridan composing a full score for the performance. He makes ambient electronic music, and will create soundscapes surrounding the performance, like a film score. I think our approach is a bit unusual. Normally, in old plays such as these, the actors themselves will play music on instruments from the time, and sing and dance. That’s very much in the tradition of the Globe Theatre in London, where Shakespeare’s plays were first shown.
But what we are putting on hasn’t been done before – the modern music is of course a strong and powerful contrast to the script.
How did you get involved with HamletScenen?
I put on a performance of Hamlet in 2004 that was really well received. So Helsingør municipality decided to offer us support, and in 2008 they helped establish HamletScenen, where I was employed as CEO and artistic director. I’ve spent the last ten years building it up through the annual Shakespeare Festival, which presents old and new takes on the playwright.
It’s important to keep challenging him, and we have a loyal audience that comes here to see his work. So our festival is divided between maintaining a respect for history, and challenging the way we interpret him. We are also supported by the London Globe Theatre, which has been collaborating with us for the past six years.
The performance of Hamlet is in English – how do you make sure that the Danish audience really appreciates what is taking place?
What I’m looking to create are powerful stage performances, so by using the right theatrical language, the audience has an easy time understanding what’s going on with the characters. We also project Danish subtitles just above the middle of the stage, like at the opera, which people are used to.
What does the future of HamletScenen look like?
This is our first internationally-produced production, and much of the cast is foreign. It’s part of the plan to work more internationally, so we are opening up HamletScenen to be the centre of a global collaboration – I want Kronborg Castle to become the hub for meetings about Shakespeare. M
August 1 – 19, Starts at 20:00
English with Danish subtitles
HamletScenen, Kronborg 13, Helsingør
Tickets from DKK 150 – DKK 500
To buy tickets or for more information, visit: hamletscenen.dk