This playlet was directly inspired by Martin Arnold’s remarkable 12 minute film Passage à l’Acte (1993). The film uses a short sequence from Robert Mulligan’s To Kill a Mockingbird (1962), starring Gregory Peck, as found footage and subjects it to highly repetitive cutting that generates cascades of very short moments and gestures. The technique isolates micromoments in a domestic scene featuring a family at table, expanding them so that they seem to uncover unexpressed tensions and resentments. The sound track of the film is also cut to the repeated frames of the original so that a persistent clicking and banging is augmented by short screams, cries and wails as mouths open and reopen, doors are closed endlessly and family members rock restlessly to and fro. The film is spellbinding and hypnotic.
In the live performance that we produced the actors rocked and twitched constantly and precisely, as though hardwired to a metronome. This magnified the animosity between the Hamlet characters and endowed their exchanges with both a modern neuroticism and a relationship with mythical figures doomed to eternal repetition, such as Tantalus, Prometheus or Sisyphus.
THIS IS AN OUTLINE OF SOME ACTIVITIES THAT WOULD TAKE ONLY A COUPLE OF MINUTES TO ENACT IN REAL TIME.
IT IS A BASIS FOR REAL TIME IMPROVISATION, IN REHEARSAL, THAT WILL GENERATE MORE DETAIL.
ONCE WE HAVE A GOOD SEQUENCE WE WILL FIX THE DETAIL AND WORK ON SLOWING THE ACTION RIGHT DOWN.
THIS IS NOT, HOWEVER, AN EXERCISE IN SLOW MOTION. IT IS BETTER TO REGARD THE STYLE OF MOVEMENT AS A MEANS OF EXAMINING SMALL INTERPERSONAL EXCHANGES IN SUCH A WAY THAT THEY DISCLOSE TENSIONS AND DIFFICULTIES THAT WOULD NOT BE APPARENT IF THEY WERE OBSERVED IN THE NORMAL WAY.
ATTENTION IS DRAWN TO SIGNIFICANT EXCHANGES BY MULTIPLE REPETITION. THE LATTER WOULD NOT BE PRESENT IF THE SEQUENCE WERE SPEEDED UP – WE ARE DELIBERATELY SELECTING CERTAIN MOMENTS AND AMPLIFYING THEM VIA REPETITION.
THE EFFECT CAN BE COMPARED TO A TAPE LOOP THAT REPEATS A MOMENT IN A VERY SHORT EVENT THEN GRADUALLY MOVES TO THE NEXT MOMENT. THE REPEATS ARE PERHAPS ONLY ONE OR TWO SECONDS IN DURATION.
AT NO POINT IS ANY CHARACTER PERFECTLY STILL. ALTHOUGH THERE WILL BE PASSAGES WHEN FOCUS IS OFF A PARTICULAR CHARACTER, S/HE WILL ALWAYS BE PART OF A GROUP WHOSE MEMBERS CONSTANTLY REACT, OFTEN IN THE TINIEST OF WAYS, TO WHAT IS GOING ON AROUND THEM.
DIALOGUE IS ALSO SUBJECTED TO EXTREME ANALYSIS: SYLLABLES ARE MULTIPLY REPEATED AND TIME IS EXCESSIVELY STRETCHED.
SOUND: THE PINGING OF A SUBMARINE ASDIC AS THE AUDIENCE ENTERS AND UNTIL THE FIRST LIGHTING CUE.
The performance text below takes 3 minutes to read but lasts for six times longer on stage.
Summary of the scene which is broken into moments that are, in turn, expressed as cascades of micromoments:
GERTRUDE AND HAMLET ARE SEATED.
SHE SMILES UNEASILY AT HIM.
HE TURNS AWAY FROM HER DISDAINFULLY.
SHE EXTENDS HER ARM TOWARDS HIM AND STARTS TO SPEAK.
GERTRUDE Would you like…?
HAMLET SHAKES HIS HEAD ANGRILY.
HE SMILES AT GERTRUDE. THEY EXCHANGE CAUTIOUS BUT AMOROUS GLANCES.
CLAUDIUS SEES HAMLET. HE TRIES TO LOOK AS IF HE IS PLEASED TO SEE HIS NEPHEW.
HAMLET FIXES CLAUDIUS WITH AN UNWAVERING, ANGRY GAZE.
CLAUDIUS STOPS SPEAKING, MOVES TO HAMLET AND IS ABOUT TO EMBRACE HIM. HAMLET TURNS AWAY.
CLAUDIUS GLANCES UNEASILY AT GERTRUDE.
GERTRUDE DOESN’T KNOW WHAT TO DO – SHE RAISES HER HEAD, LOOKS AT HAMLET, FORCES A SMILE. THE SMILE FADES TO A LOOK OF DEFEAT AND CONSTERNATION.
THE CHARACTERS STEW IN THEIR DISCOMFORT FOR A WHILE.
ALL TURN TO WATCH HER ENTRY.
SHE CAUSES CONSTERNATION IN ALL PRESENT.
SHE TURNS TO HAMLET AND STARTS TO SPEAK
OPHELIA What have you done?
HAMLET I wasn’t…I didn’t…
SHE TURNS TO GERTRUDE
OPHELIA He won’t…
GERTRUDE No, no…
SHE TURNS TO CLAUDIUS
OPHELIA My Da…
SHE TURNS TO HAMLET
OPHELIA My Da…
HAMLET No, no…
SHE WALKS AWAY FROM HIM.
SHE TURNS AND COMES BACK TOWARDS HIM.
OPHELIA Given the existence as uttered…
GERTRUDE He’s not coming…
CLAUDIUS Chump. Off his chump…
OPHELIA STARTS TO WAIL.
THE OTHERS ARE DISTRESSED BY HER DISTRESS.
THEY ALL START TO SPEAK AT THE SAME TIME.
THE RESULT IS A CONSTANTLY BROKEN CHORUS OF SYLLABLES AS LIGHTS SLOWLY FADE DOWN AND THE PINGING ASDIC SLOWLY FADES UP.