Theatre

Travelling with the bard

By DOMINIC-DROMGOOLE

One fine April morning, 16 actors and technicians set out to take Shakespeare’s Hamlet around the world. We bring you a glimpse of their unforgettable journey

William Shakespeare is, to me, the most instinctually democratic of all writers. He always presented theatre that anyone could enjoy. And he invested in each of his characters a lot of care, love and thought, even if it were the Second Gentleman in All’s Well That Ends Well – he has the best lines in the play! This generosity of spirit towards his characters was something his audience recognised and identified with. At the Globe in London, we saw it as our role to keep that tradition alive as much as possible. This was why we had very reasonably priced tickets and a big outreach programme, taking our plays out across the UK. Taking Hamlet to 197 countries across the world with Globe to Globe a few years later, therefore, seemed like an extension of that. And we were very grateful that in several countries, especially in South America and Africa, the performances were for free so that anyone could come in. This, for us, really honoured the spirit of Shakespeare.

The actors and the audience are in a shared light, so the former must perform looking into the latter’s eyes instead of looking into the darkness a little over their heads, like they would in a more conventional theatre.
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A JOURNEY OF INTERPRETATION

As we took Hamlet to different countries, encompassing vastly varied cultures and sensibilities, we came across many interpretations of the play and its action that very often surprised us. There were, in fact, nearly as many interpretations as there were countries. As one instance, we had a very exciting performance in Rwanda. Though I wasn’t present there, the crew told me that it was quite a spectacle. They had been performing indoors when the power failed, and they had to shift the entire show outdoors, where the audience already watching was joined by anyone and everyone who passed by. Ultimately, that performance was watched by nearly 600 people and there was great energy all around. What surprised the crew most, however, was the sense of rich comedy that developed when characters began to die in the play. The response was not one of dismay or mourning – the audience had its own take on death, having come to understand it as a part of life.

LANGUAGE AND ACCESSIBILITY

For Globe to Globe, I chose to stay with the Jacobean English of the original play for all performances because, for me, you cannot make something more accessible by diluting its identity. If you begin to think about making a play simple, you make it hard for it to be itself and even harder for the audience to engage fully with it. You wouldn’t take Mozart, for instance, and say - let’s change some of these notes to make the melody more accessible. While this is a slightly specious example, I truly believe that if the spirit is right and the engagement is right, the original piece is the clearest and the easiest to comprehend.

Moreover, the mode of address at the Globe is very different from anywhere else. The actors and the audience are in a shared light, so the former must perform looking into the latter’s eyes instead of looking into the darkness a little over their heads, like they would in a more conventional theatre. When you are not patronising the audience, using the original language and forging this connection with them brings the play to life.

 

HAMLET AND I

With Hamlet, you find different ways of understanding the play as many times as you watch it. At the Globe, it took me quite a while to finally do a production because I had, through the years, come across so many formal, stiff and grand productions that I had begun to seek a way to make the play feel loose and spontaneous. It is very difficult to keep fresh something that is this canonical. A few years before Globe to Globe, I did my first Hamlet production as a small scale tour with eight actors. The play was thus freed in my mind - suddenly, I was worrying about how an actor would double this part and that, how a prop would go from here to there... I was no longer looking at the play as a cosmic entity. To this day, Hamlet (especially acts two, three and four) remains a mystery to me. I feel as though I could go on watching and enjoying it forever, without ever feeling like I’ve completely understood it.

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