Far removed from the school hours spent uncomprehendingly tripping through Hamlet’s soliloquy a line at a time, Howard Barker’s Gertrude – The Cry is abundant in sexual manipulation, self-destructive obsession and finally a female perspective on what is arguable Shakespeare’s most famous play. Perhaps Mr Eaton would have had a better chance of engaging a group of adolescents if it had been this text he’d been tasked to teach us all those years ago.
This is a play that comes with a parental guidance warning for a very good reason. The audience are initially confronted with a kaleidoscopic film of faces, tongues and ambiguous (yet suspiciously genital-esq) body parts merging and unmerging in time with trippy music in an orgy of the senses which seems at odds with the sparse white wooden structure which makes up the set.
The somewhat perfunctory character of Hamlet is interesting in this particular adaptation as he egotistically stumbles through the play, trying to make sense of emotion with words – then without words – each time failing to acknowledge the reality life around him.
One by one the male characters attach themselves to Gertrude in shows of devotion, obsession and lust in equal measure; shows which she in turn tires from when she realises that each in turn will only serve to disappoint in their own way.
Her motivation throughout is a search to find the catalyst of her “cry”, initially portrayed as a sexual climax but then becoming the result of we don’t know what, as each subsequent dalliance fails to elicit this “cry”.
Is this play about female empowerment? Is this play about power play? Is it simply an exploration of one of the Bard’s most famous from a female centric position?
Yes to all, maybe. I’m not sure. What it is, however, is two hours of absorbing characters, relatively seamless acting, sex, death and lots of nipples. What’s not to like?