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Russian actor Evgeny Mironov plays multiple characters from Shakespeare's Hamlet in the opening act of the Singapore International Festival of Arts.

Russian star Evgeny Mironov plays various characters from Shakespeare's tragedy in Robert Lepage's visually striking adaptation

In the opening act of the Singapore International Festival of Arts, Evgeny Mironov plays multiple characters from Shakespeare's Hamlet.

Hamlet | Collage has the Russian actor bounding around in an open-sided cube, playing the tragic prince of the title, drowned Ophelia and even Ophelia's father Polonius. The performance is staged this Friday and Saturday at the Drama Centre Theatre, in Russian with English surtitles.

Mironov says in an e-mail interview: "I play an actor who does the entire play, all the characters of the tragedy seemingly appearing in his mind. For me, this is an absolutely unique, one-of-a-kind experience."

Mironov, artistic director of Moscow's Theatre of Nations troupe, played a more traditional - and critically acclaimed - Hamlet under German director Peter Stein 14 years ago.

For this production with Theatre of Nations, Canadian director Robert Lepage started with the idea of Hamlet as a character who thinks too much. Hence, a play in which the action takes place within Hamlet's head.

Mironov says: "I have to be very quick to project myself from one character into another, and my body must also help me transform into another person."

The actor, who turns 50 in November, is one of Russia's favourite stars on stage and screen. Considered a national treasure, he is well known for films such as the 1991 coming-of-age drama Love by Valery Todorovsky, as well as a television adaptation of Dostoyevsky's The Idiot. He has also received national awards for his performance in Shukshin's Stories, Theatre of Nations' staging of the tales of the much-loved writer of the Soviet era.

The difference between theatre and film is one of distance, Mironov says. "Film is done scene by scene: some scenes pulled from the beginning, some from the end, others from the middle of the piece, and you have to always keep track of where you are at the moment. The beauty of theatre is the opportunity to try something new every time. But what's done for the screen is done once and forever."

Mironov was born into a family that enjoyed dabbling in amateur performances. His father was a chauffeur, while his mother worked various jobs, including in sales. His sister, a former professional ballet dancer, now teaches.

As a teen, he studied at the Slonov Drama School of Saratov, then the Moscow Art Theatre Studio School.

It was not a smooth ride to the top in theatre. Mironov says: "The worst thing for me has always been when people leave in the middle of the show - this means I didn't convince them. Once, after such a performance, the director came by my room and said, 'You have to have courage to do performances that are not to everybody's liking because the gratitude of those who stayed is much more valuable than the indifference and rejection of those who left.'"

Hamlet | Collage will be especially challenging. The 21/2hour performance has no intermission, demanding physical and mental endurance.

The actor's favourite backstage tradition of "hands" is also a no-go.

Usually, before going on stage, he says: "All actors of the show gather in a circle; they hold one another's hands, look into one another's eyes, take the same tune and, this way, they charge one another with their energy. However, I'm all alone in this show and thus I'm doing 'hands' with myself."

The intensity of the performance means he has to decompress by lying absolutely motionless, preferably in silence.

"In this show, I need my body to help me more than in any other show I've done," he says.

"My body has to be enduring."