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Play takes a new look at Shakespeare's 'Hamlet'

By Fang Aiqing | China Daily | Updated: 2018-05-05 10:30

The play Ophelia on the Roof combines Shakespeare's masterpiece with Chinese elements. [Photo by Ta Su/For China Daily]

Ophelia on the Roof, a stage play based on William Shakespeare's classic Hamlet, made its debut at the Inside-Out Theater in Beijing recently.

In the play, the main characters from Hamlet - Hamlet, Ophelia, Claudius the King and Gertrude the Queen - are ghosts who meet on the rooftops of theaters around the world wherever the original play is staged.

In the play, Ophelia, Hamlet's beloved, speaks out about how she feels.

"The play combines Shakespeare's masterpiece with Chinese elements, and as it is written and directed by females, it brings a fresh perspective to the current drama market that is dominated by male directors," says Li Jianming, the playwright.

According to it director Chen Ran, the play encourages women to value themselves and raise their voices.

The play takes place on the rooftop of a theater in Beijing, where Ophelia, the one who seldom speaks, finally decides to break her silence and talk about her dissatisfaction with the Queen's indulgences, her father Polonius' betrayal and Hamlet's curse and abandonment.

In Shakespeare's piece, the beautiful, compliant and kindhearted girl is driven to despair upon learning of her father's death and her lover's madness, and she later drowns herself in a river.

But in this play, after hundreds of years' introspection, Ophelia is no longer an innocent girl, a speechless fool or a miserable psycho.

In Chen's opinion, Ophelia's words are more meaningful to herself than to the others.

After Ophelia leaves the stage at the end, there is a short video showing the actress removing her makeup, packing up her things and leaving the theater while answering a series of quick yes-no questions.

"Before she spoke, she did not have the chance to refuse to be Ophelia, yet later she steps out of the character. I assume it symbolizes Ophelia's rebirth," says Chen.

The feminist perspective can also be seen in characters of the Queen.

During a rare interaction with Ophelia, the Queen speaks of her own life: her act of marrying her husband's brother shortly after her husband's death seems no big deal when compared with modern sexual liberation.

And, unlike Ophelia who clings to the past, the Queen does yoga and applies face masks on the stage showing that she would rather focus more on herself than pay attention to the surroundings.

And this, according to Chen, is the way she reconciles with her past and lives with self-confidence.

Speaking about the play, Jia Lili, drama critic and a doctoral student at the School of Chinese Language and Literature of Beijing Normal University, says: "Every one of us that has compassion for women cannot help but feel for Ophelia, who has become a victim of the prince's selfishness.

And Ophelia on the Roof tries to reveal her inner world to a contemporary audience.

Though the narrative is somewhat fragmentary, it adds to the original piece with inspirations to rediscover Ophelia in a contemporary context," says Jia.

Ophelia on the Roof is among the recent mission of the Inside-Out Theater this year to retell classical Shakespeare texts through alternative perspectives.

And Man Ding, the director of the theater, says: "We're looking forward to diverse interpretations and creations. And we will try our best to provide the younger generation more opportunities to take to the stage."

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