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Gdansk Shakespeare fest shows many sides of 'Hamlet'

It's one of Shakespeare's greatest plays, so it's no wonder that "Hamlet" figures in more than its fair share of productions at the 19th Gdansk Shakespeare Festival in the northern Polish city.

"Great John Barrymore," the opening play, set the tone with a portrait of the legendary American Shakespearean actor, rueing that he could not appreciate his performance as Hamlet.

"One of my greatest regrets will always be that I couldn't sit in the audience and watch me perform," Barrymore, played by Jerzy Trela, says in the play by Krakow's STU Theater on July 31.

The 10-day festival featuring presentations in theaters and on the streets of Gdansk ends on August 9.

For festival director Jerzy Limon, approaching the role of Hamlet through the thoughts of the actor who played him was in keeping with the experimental nature of European theater today.

It's also in line with the festival, known in Polish as the "Festiwal Szekspirowski," which mixes traditional presentations of Shakespeare plays in English with experimental modern versions, renditions in other languages such as Polish and Russian, and works inspired by Bard's prolific output.

Traditional productions of Shakespeare are "tough to find, especially in Poland or Germany," Limon said.

"There is, of course, a nostalgia from the spectators' side to plays that have a beginning, middle, and end ... for coherence of plot, convincing characters, all these notions that have been rejected by very recent theater."

In its opening days, the festival presented a Romanian version of "Hamlet." In contrast, Copenhagen's Theater Republique and the British trio The Tiger Lillies jointly offered an understanding of the play, mixing drama, dance, and acrobatic theater with grotesque songs.

"When I heard that they produced 'Hamlet,' I said to myself, 'Wow, we must have it,'" Limon said.

Other experimental works include jazz interpretations of Shakespeare's sonnets by Portuguese singer Maria Joao and her electronic OGRE group. "It's an adventure," she said of their project.

Also in the mix are a Polish "King Lear," a Russian-Danish "Macbeth," and a Georgian "Julius Caesar," as well as offerings in a "ShakespeareOFF" stream, including one-person shows, movies, and TV series.

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