Hamlet all around the world

Since 2014, London’s Globe Theatre will be performing William Shakespeare’s Hamlet in every single country in the world, and Malta’s turn will come on February 8, when the Globe’s travelling players will set up shop at the Salesians Theatre – offering free tickets to asylum seekers. TEODOR RELJIC spoke to the Globe’s Helena Miscioscia about the aims of this ambitious project, and what to expect from the production

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Teodor Reljic
1 February 2016, 8:30am
Lady Emeruwa in Globe’s small-scale production of Hamlet, which will visit every country on earth between 23 April 2014 and 23 April 2016 - stopping over in Malta on February 8 • Photo by Helena Miscioscia
Lady Emeruwa in Globe’s small-scale production of Hamlet, which will visit every country on earth between 23 April 2014 and 23 April 2016 - stopping over in Malta on February 8 • Photo by Helena Miscioscia
How did this initiative first begin? What were the formative ideas behind it?

In 2012, as part of the Cultural Olympiad that accompanied the London Olympic Games, the Globe hosted an epic and groundbreaking theatrical festival entitled Globe to Globe. Thirty-seven companies from 37 different countries gathered at the Globe to perform Shakespeare’s entire canon, in languages ranging from Maori to Mandarin, from Japanese to Juba Arabic, over a six-week period.
From this festival we were inspired to give something back and link up with the partners we had made.

This marathon tour of Hamlet – co-directed by Dominic Dromgoole and another colleague, Bill Buckhurst – to be performed in every single country on earth between 23 April 2014 and 23 April 2016. The former is the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth, and the second is the quarter centenary of his death (for he is believed to have entered and exited life with uncanny timing, on the very same day of the year).

What would you say are the tangible benefits that emerge from this initiative as a whole?

It is all about the audience. The audiences have thrown themselves into the experience. It is magical and special and very quickly you realise how effective they can be for performance.

Why was Hamlet chosen as the touring play? And on a similar note, how do you negotiate the cultural differences of each country you visit with the play?

Hamlet is… well, Hamlet. I think Hamlet, so beautiful and so perfect in form, has been a continually enriching experience for the company. It has ripened and developed on its journey – the actors have grown it, and can continue to reflect on what it means as it makes its way around the world. Hamlet is also such a protean play; that it can respond in very different ways to different places. In some places it has challenged, in some inspired, in some consoled. And its themes concerning parents and children, rebellion and depression seem pretty universal.

We’re using a text that’s a mix of the Folio text of Hamlet and the First Quarto. The First Quarto was very much a touring version, roughly half the length of the Second Quarto. That means it’s got an energy, with a fast-moving narrative, and clarity. It will continue to stay fresh as each company member can double or triple up and play lots of different roles.

What are the main differences between these productions and those of the ‘regular’ touring Globe productions?

The main difference is that our actors can double and triple roles – so our Ophelia is also our Gertude and Horatio. This keeps the story fresh and interesting for the performers who have been touring for almost two years. Another difference is the set – all of it packs down into 14 trunks which are part of the action, but also part of what we tour with – they are our suitcases and travel everywhere with us!

This Hamlet has a really pleasingly international cast, a lot of people from different cultures and theatre traditions coming together, bringing different ideas. It’s a squad of twelve actors and four stage managers who are all going round everywhere together. They’ll are sharing roles, so that they get to take breaks and refresh. Rawiri Paratene [who starred in the film Whale Rider] is king of the Maori acting scene in New Zealand. He is playing Claudius and Polonius. One of our Hamlets, Ladi Emeruwa, is from Nigeria; the other, Naeem Hayat, is from a Muslim family in East London; and Jennifer Leong is one of our Ophelias. She’s a protégée of Hong Kong’s Tang Shu-wing company, which brought Titus Andronicus to Globe to Globe in 2012 and is returning this year with Macbeth.

The Malta edition of the performances will also ‘double up’ for Libya since it wasn’t possible to stage the performance there due to the volatile conditions of the country at this point in time. How are you coordinating the efforts to include Libyan refugees among the attendees?

We are working closely with the Agency for the welfare of asylum seekers to enable Libyan migrants and other migrants in Malta to join us at the theatre. We are offering their tickets free of charge and organising their transport too.

Globe’s Hamlet production will be performed at the Salesians Theatre, Sliema on February 8 at 14:00 and 19:30. Tickets are at €15, €10 and €5. Bookings: http://new.ticketline.com.mt/.

Globe’s performances are supported by the British Council. This month, the British Council launched a global celebration on the occasion of the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death. Shakespeare Lives is a major programme of events and activities celebrating Shakespeare’s work, aiming to reach over half a billion people worldwide. As part of this celebration the Council is  presenting a diverse programme of activity in Malta, in collaboration with the British High Commission and local partners.

In February, in collaboration with Spazju Kreattiv, the British Council is holding a Shakespeare Film Festival, presenting some timeless classics, such as “Hamlet (1948) with Laurence Olivier and “Richard III” (1995) starring Sir Ian McKellen. More films will be shown in March and April. More info on the British Council's website www.britishcouncil.org.mt

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Teodor Reljic is MaltaToday's culture editor and film critic. He joined t...