XJTLU students stage innovative version of Hamlet

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An innovative version of Shakespeare’s classic play Hamlet was performed by Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University students, with the title role being shared between four female actors.


The performance was produced and directed by Language Centre teacher Jonathan Tillotson, and was held on the evening of Thursday 12 May in the Foundation Building. Staff and students from many departments across the University were in the audience.

“Hamlet is probably my second favourite Shakespeare play after Macbeth,” said Jonathan of the decision to stage this particular play. “It has some great soliloquys.”

Jonathan created an abridged version of the play and planned a small-scale production, but was impressed by the level of interest, with 20 students wanting to take part.

“At first I was hoping to be able to give students whatever parts they wanted,” said Jonathan. “As it was, I had too many students applying for the part of Hamlet, so they needed to audition for that role. I thought Hamlet too dominant a role for only one student, but also felt that it would work best if we had only four Hamlets.”

Auditions were held for the part of Hamlet, with four female students eventually being cast in the role because of a lack of male applicants. Other parts were assigned to students who showed interest, as enthusiasm was the main trait Jonathan was looking for in participants.

Students had studied the play last year as part of a module on Shakespeare. Xie Xinling, who played Ophelia, found that performing the play gave her a new appreciation for it: "When I studied Hamlet initially, I thought Hamlet was a coward and his procrastination was rather silly. Now, I find him pitiful and understand his procrastination, and his soliloquies are thought-provoking."

Hu Qingzhi, who studies computer science and was one of the actors portraying Hamlet, said that studying English literature improves her understanding of English culture and benefits her studies in general: "The study of literature provides me with a fresh and creative angle to study a science-related major," she said.

Last year, in collaboration with the XJTLU Drama Society, Jonathan organised a production of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, and the reading of Chinese and English poems in translation. He has plans for future productions including putting on a performance of T. S. Elliot’s poem The Wasteland, which he has turned into a play.

"I’m not aware of it having been done before in quite this way,” he said. “I felt that it would work better if I broke up the poem into different segments and assigned characters. I find it makes the poem easier to understand and makes the language come alive.”

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