Hamlet was staged on a boat, off the coast of Yemen, way back in the 17th century. Later, it was toured across Northern Europe too. London-based Shakespeare’s Globe, a reconstruction of The Globe Theatre, is trying to keep this spirit of touring alive. It embarked on a world tour with Hamlet on April 23, 2014, Shakespeare’s 450th birth anniversary. The troupe will travel to 205 countries in the world and end the project on April 26, 2016.
“Communicating stories to fresh ears was always central to Shakespeare’s work. We wouldn’t be happier to be extending that mission even further," says Dominic Dromgoole, artistic director of Shakespeare’s Globe.
The troupe has staged the tale of revenge and romance in 136 countries, even in places which might not figure on Google Maps. “We performed in Somaliland where no play had been performed for the last 20 years. It was an unforgettable experience," says Tom Lawrence who plays Ophelia’s brother Laertes in Hamlet.
The ‘Globe to Globe Hamlet’ visited India on October 18, 19. Ranga Shankara theatre at J.P. Nagar in Bengaluru became the venue for the breathtaking performance of Shakespeare’s most popular tragedy. “The one in Bengaluru was our 220th performance," says Lawrence.
Laertes has been away from home for the last 18 months. Back-to-back performances in different geographical zones and extreme weathers have been extremely tiring for him. There are days when he gets barely four hours of sleep. Nevertheless, touring the world with Shakespeare’s ‘poem unlimited’ has been a fascinating experience, he says. The play has received a heartwarming response wherever it was performed.
In some countries, the audience were quite vocal. “There is a scene in the play where Hamlet has a heated argument with his mother. On watching it, a lady who was sitting in the front row stood up and shouted, “This is not the way you should treat your mother”,’’ recalled Keith Bartlett, the actor who plays Polonius, Ophelia's father in Hamlet, in an interaction with THE WEEK before the performance.
The Globe, the home of Shakespeare’s acting company has been rocked by the vicissitudes of fate. In 1613, a fire broke out at the theatre during a performance of King Henry VIII. The whole theatre made of timbre and a thatched roof was consumed. A new Globe theatre was soon built.
In 2007, the late Sam Wannemaker reconstructed the theatre at a place close to its original location and renamed it as Shakespeare’s Globe.
‘Globe to Globe Hamlet’ was inspired by the Globe festival held in 2012, where 37 troupes from 37 countries performed Shakespearean plays. The troupe has performed in Africa, America and throughout Europe. “Due to the turmoil in Syria, we will not be able to enter there. But we will go to the border in Jordan and perform for the Syrian refugees. We will be touring across the Middle East," says Lawrence.
One thing which keeps the troupe's performances fresh and interesting for the cast is that they rotate their roles. Both Naeem Hayat and Mathew Romain play Hamlet. They switch roles with ease as they know the whole play by heart.The 12-actor troupe has a multi-racial and multi-generational cast and crew.
Naeem Hayat enjoyed performing in Bengaluru, a city which boasts of literati and an elite theatre audience. The play uses the same archaic English that was spoken 450 years ago and everyone understood it. During the interval, one could see people bonding over the lines they knew by heart and relished and striking up conversations about the production and the quality of acting.
Arundhati Nag, theatre and film personality and founder of Ranga Shankara was enthralled by the performance of Hamlet. “With minimal craft, they were able to give you the impression that they were out there in Denmark. People really had a taste of how the Globe theatre in London functions,”says Nag. Shakespeare’s Globe’s performance was quite fast-paced compared to other Hamlet performances Nag has watched. There was never a dull moment in the play, she says. "Perhaps Hamlet’s mother could have been better and more layered. Even the stepfather," Nag adds as an afterthought.
Nag hopes we draw inspiration from Hamlet and create world class performances that can travel. “We have an even older theatre among us. We have plays which are thousand years old. I wish we picked up our classics and did some travel productions,’’ says Nag who sees plays as moving historical monuments.