Prague Fringe 2018
Using audience members in a play as serious as Hamlet is risky business, but Emily Carding proves once again that she is in total control of her material and knows perfectly well how to reign in a rowdy audience.
One of the most telling signs of a performer’s control over their material is how well they deal with the unexpected. In the case of audience participation, that means, on the one hand, involving reluctant members of the audience and, on the other hand, usually even worse, reining in the over-enthusiastic. Having fully mastered a kind of interactive Shakespeare with Richard III at the 2016 edition of the Prague Fringe, Emily Carding makes a triumphant return in a black hoody, this time portraying the Danish prince, whose five-act travails she has stripped to its bare essentials.
Before taking their seats around what Carding ironically dubs the “safe space” (where her performance – and many a death – will take place), members of the audience are warmly greeted from centre stage. She gauges their willingness to be included in the production and hands out a script for them to follow. All of this is done with a dash of humour (whoever plays Ophelia is questioned as to whether they will be able to endure the verbal abuse) but, where necessary, also a firm hand: The character of Laertes has to participate in a major sword fight, and Carding gave a stern talking to two would-be participants who were clearly not taking it seriously enough.
This is Hamlet, after all, and while there are moments of levity, the material does not lend itself to shenanigans – certainly not from amateurs.
The production focuses on the spine of the play, which comprises almost exclusively the intimate family dynamics of the prince who finds out his father was murdered by his uncle. It is mostly a series of soliloquies punctuated by a line or two from the audience and a bit of action here and there, which presumably makes every production unique.
Carding is fearless, her grasp of the material flawless and her energy boundless, although it is a shame that the acoustics in the venue are terrible, with the loudest bits of dialogue bouncing back and overwhelming each other. (By contrast, her 2015 performance of Richard III in the Kavárna 3+1, which barely seats 20 people, was perfectly in tune with the venue – even though a comparable number of characters lost their lives in the process.)
If the right venue can be found to absorb all the slings and arrows, the whips and scorns, the poison and the sword fights, and Carding gets participants who listen to her, this would be an even more compelling telling of one of Shakespeare’s best-known plays.