ImageProxyThe climax of an already violent, corpse strewn story is the duel between Hamlet and Laertes. In this Roaring 20’s production, the Act V showdown is a contest not of swords but bare knuckles.

“Violence design” is more than just ‘fight choreography.’ It is a vital, integral design element of the production- yet another way to tell the story.”, says Richard Gilbert, one half of R&D Choreography who have created all the violence in this Hamlet.

“Even as every play is different, each production of the same play is different from any other. It may be the same words, but the world in which they are spoken, as created by the director, is different. The violence is there for a reason, to advance the story. Fights forward to the plot. They are tactics the character uses to achieve her/his goal. It’s the goal that is interesting and the tactics a character employs illuminates who he/she is,” Gilbert continues. The definition of a hero, according to Arthur Miller, is someone who his willing “to throw all he has into the contest, the battle to secure his rightful place in the world.” An audience,” Gilbert adds, “isn’t coming to watch the fights so much as to see the relationships and the causes each of the characters are fighting for, what someone wants so passionately that s/he is willing to kill or be killed for it.”

This leads us to the final duel between Hamlet and Laertes. “It’s funny,” adds Vic Bayona, the other half of R&D,” when Rick and I signed on for this production, we were excited about getting a chance to do some swordplay design. We had not had much opportunity to do swordplay among our recent work so we were pretty jazzed. We brought a bag full of swords to our first meeting. But when Lavina communicated her vision of setting the story in Prohibition-era Chicago, it became quite clear that swordplay was just not in the cards for us.”
“On the other hand, bare knuckle boxing fits the period quite nicely and presented us with an exciting challenge. It has a very distinctive style to it that we wanted to capture; it moves quickly at a breakneck pace; and it is an art that, while a bit archaic, still resonates today. The fact that punches are far from lethal means we are encouraged to put together a very choreographically dense fight with a lot of hits on each side that communicates clearly the notion of two fighters taking their plans and crashing them against one another. And this is what a lot of real fighting is all about, something that we strive hard to capture and display in our designs.”

But (SPOILER ALERT) Hamlet and the others have to be killed by that lethal poison. How to do that in this particular context? And how does the delivery of the poison add to the telling of this particular story? Gilbert explains: “When the weapon appears everyone, particularly Hamlet himself, in the room knows both that this is no longer a fair fight and that  it is also a sanctioned Mob hit. This death will not be an accident. Claudius is clearly in control and everyone, except Horatio, wants Hamlet dead.

In spite of the text being a tragedy, Gilbert and Bayona have greatly enjoyed working on Hamlet. “OPFT has been a fantastic and exciting experience for us! This cast and crew are remarkable and have been passionate and dedicated to our design and of course to the production as a whole. They’re going to make us look SO good…”

You’ll not have seen a Hamlet quite like this before. And the bonus is, unlike all the major and so many of the supporting characters, come the final curtain you are still alive.