Playwriting

Ophelias Zimmer

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On our second class, Professor Musgrave took us to the Royal Court Theatre to see a play called Ophelias Zimmer. I thought the Professor knew it already and wanted us to notice some important things and techniques used in the play, but it turned out that he hadn’t seen it – so I was curious to see if our opinion and his opinion would be completely different or similar at the end of the show.

The play was directed by Katie Mitchell, designed by Chloe Lamford and written by Alice Birch. An interesting aspect of it was that it was all in German – which I couldn’t understand, but of course there were the subtitles displayed on a big screen. And dialogue wasn’t really the centre of this play, which I found useful. I still need to “get used” to seeing actual stuff on scene. When I write fiction, I imagine stuff happening as in a movie, but with playwriting, I always focus on the dialogue… and playwriting is much more than just a good dialogue.

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As it may be evident from the title, the play was inspired by Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and it was an interesting work exploring the famous character of Ophelia. There were many details that referred to the original play, such as Ophelia’s death in the water, Ophelia’s obsession with flowers and many others. The whole play was divided into five acts (I can’t remember exactly, but I am quite positive they were five) that described the stages of drowning.

The first observation that comes up to my mind is how the repetitivenes of scene struck me from the very first moments and how the lighting emphasized it. The difference between cold, grey, blue and eerie lights and the warm and orange one of the bedlamps gave a great sense of the atmosphere. Lightness really sets up things on stage. It was also the first time I had seen water on stage, which was really interesting. Was it just a reference to Ophelia’s death in water? Was it a symbol of a psychological situation? It was an intriguing choice.

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The play was set in a room, a very simple room. That always buffles me about theatre. How is it possible to write something interesting and meaningful in such a tiny space? Professor Musgrave told us to appreciate the limitations of space. They can free us because we can do what we want in a room. That’s very interesting. Try to see the stage not as a limitation but as a free space.

Another interesting aspect of the play was how important the off stage action was. Many things happened off stage. In Ancient Greek theatre, killings were performed off stage, while the Romans performed them on stage. What can this tell us about a play? What can this tell us about a culture or a society?

When we met again in class, we talked about the play and Professor Musgrave made us recall all the objects that were present in the room and the roles they played. There was a bed, which Ophelia made everyday. The bed is a symbol of comfort, rest. There was a coatstand, that at the beginning was full of dresses – every now and then, Ophelia would put a new dress on the others she already had. At the end, it was empty. And then there was the needlework set, which could have been also a symbol of comfort, but was also the tool she used to kill herself. Then there was the recording player, that she used to listen to Hamlet’s messages. This list helped us to understand that if you put an object on stage it is very important to make use of it. In theatre, unlike novels, there must be a tight economy of objects, ideas and characters, and every detail can be an infinitely important resource – or nightmare – for the writer.

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