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New “Hamlet” provokes anger

Skinheads and neo-nazis: the controversial new "Hamlet" Keystone

A highly controversial new version of "Hamlet", involving German neo-nazis and skinheads has opened in Zurich. The play, which is being staged at the city theatre - the Schauspielhaus - has prompted death threats and widespread criticism.

Even before the première, the play provoked strong criticism from both sides of the political spectrum and from within the theatre’s own board of management.

A lively debate in Swiss newspapers also fuelled the controversy and aroused angry reaction from some members of the public.

Barabara Higgs, the Schauspielhaus’s head of communications, said that the theatre welcomed the response from the public and media. “I think this is one of the duties of a lively theatre to provoke vivid discussions,” Higgs told swissinfo.

The play’s German director, Christoph Schlingensief, reportedly said he was afraid to walk the streets of Zurich alone, and one member of his production team even received a death threat.

“We are very concerned about these threats, but we are not going to stop putting on the play,” Higgs said.

Regarded as one of Germany’s most provocative film and theatre directors, Schlingensief is no stranger to controversy. “Having direct contacts with people from the extreme right has left me open to charges of latent racism or anti-semitism,” he has been quoted as saying, “and I’m aware that some neo-nazis would like to profit by using the play as a platform.”

But Schlingensief added that this was not his intention. The neo-nazis have roles as the actors in the “play within a play” scene in the Shakespeare classic, and are as he puts it, “part of the comedy”.

Schlingensief recently prompted further controversy in Switzerland with a series of open-air tirades in Zurich, during which he called for the banning of the right-wing Swiss People’s Party, one of the four parties in the government.

Ironically this production of “Hamlet” marks a major departure from the way he has worked previously. Script editor Robert Koall, who has worked with him for many years, told swissinfo: “He has adopted what might be regarded as an old-fashioned, classical approach which is not in any way deconstructive.

“The German translation is faithful to the original Shakespeare text, and in his interpretation of the drama, Schlingensief has merely gone back to the roots.”

Performances of “Hamlet” continue at the Schauspielhaus on May 12, 13, 29 and 31.


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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR