Shakespeare's Hamlet by London's international Globe Theatre was performed at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina on Monday, 12 January. The visit comes as part of the theatre troupe's two-year world tour, Globe to Globe, which will see them performing in over 200 countries. Egypt is the 67th country to host the Globe's touring play.
Continuously on the road, the troupe melds artistic excellence with at times tough scheduling demands.
Ahram Online sat with Tamsin Mehta, the Globe to Globe's associate producer, to discus the organisational aspects of the tour, and look into the joy — and a few hardships — that the life on the road with Shakespeare brings.
Ahram Online (AO): Very few theatre troupes make a regular practice of reaching out to international audiences with their productions. They also do so for different reasons, most having marketing aspects in mind. This is the case with the Metropolitan Opera, which in 2006 launched live high definition broadcasts of its operas. With Hamlet, the Globe travels across the world. What was behind this idea?
Tamsin Mehta (TM): Marketing wasn’t the reason. It was simply an idea of Dominic Droomgoole, the play's director and the man with big ideas. Dominic is an internationally renowned theatre director, while traveling with Hamlet is a joyous experience for us. Though we were not primarily motored by marketing strategies, the tour definitely helps presenting the Globe Theatre to the world. Among audiences, we meet people who'd say, "I've been to London but I've never been to the Globe. Now that I've seen the play, I will." So that's lovely. It's safe to say that this tour raises awareness on the Globe.
AO: This is not the first time for the Globe to travel. Correct?
TM: The Globe started touring seven or eight years ago. We already did small tours across the country, and in fact in 2011 Hamlet was one of the touring plays. But then Dominic decided to do the world tour. We launched the Globe to Globe project for which he thought Hamlet would be the most suitable production. The Globe to Globe's Hamlet has a different set and different actors, but the mobility and logistics that it incorporates was no stranger.
AO: For the cast, this is not a regular Hamlet ... You spend weeks on the road, away from home. Was casting for this project particularly difficult?
TM: It was surely different than casting for a locally staged play. We had a lot of conversations before starting the process, during which we defined all the requirements. The artistic side of the show was important, yet we were also looking for a cast with an ability to travel well — people who would be able to take care of one another, people who would not mind to carry luggage when needed, etc. All those things are equally important.
The show does not exist by itself but will be always affected by all the peripheral issues: the mood, adaptability to sudden change, acceptance of being away from home for several weeks ... The team needs to be able to accept all those elements, and we explained them during the casting process. Some would say "Yes! I have to do it" and others would reply "No way, it's not for me." This project doesn’t really have a middle ground. The rehearsals took six weeks — very busy weeks.
AO: So how big is the travelling team and how long do you stay on the road?
TM: We are usually 16 people travelling: 12 actors and four stage managers. Usually somebody from the office, like me, is travelling with the team. Sometimes the director joins the tour, to keep an eye on the production.
We decided quite early it would be too much to ask people to commit to travel all those months. Everybody has commitments. We also need to go back home, repack, keep an eye on the maintenance of the equipment we carry. So we broke the two-year travel down to 7-8 weeks on the road and then two weeks at home. Last time the troupe was at home briefly was during Christmas. On the New Year they were off again.
AO: How did you plan the actual tour?
TM: Preliminarily we decided we would try to go to each and every country, as per the list of the United Nations. We do not plan to exclude any country, yet we do take into consideration the security climate. For instance, maybe for now, it's not the best moment to think about Syria ... At the end of the day it is a mere play and we don't want to put our troupe in danger. We're not silly. However, two years is a long time and the situation in many places might change. We use the advice of the UK foreign office, that tells us when and where we should or shouldn't be going.
AO: With 12 actors, each play is different. Many actors shift between two, three or even four roles. They exchange the roles each night, which makes the performance different every time. This applies to all the actors except for Hamlet, played by two actors — Ladi Emeruwa and Naeem Hayat — interchangeably. What is the system of shifting roles?
TM: This procedure keeps the play very fresh. We see it renewed each time it's performed. Decisions on the arrangement of actors are done by our assistant director back in London. It's quite scientific, to make sure everybody gets the same number of shows. However, the role of Hamlet is played by two actors; and they do not perform any other roles.
AO: Your actors are of various origins. Ladi Emeruwa is of Nigerian origin, Naeem Hayat of Pakistani origin, Jennifer Leong is Hong Kong-born, Rawiri Paratene is Maori, and there are a few British-born actors. Was this mix an intentional one?
TM: It was partly intentional. What we didn’t want to do is to go around the world with the entirely [Caucasian] British company and send message: 'This is how you do Shakespeare.' The troupe is a beautiful mix, which was not planned [in strict terms] but was taken into consideration.
AO: Are the actors employed by the Globe Theatre on a permanent basis?
TM: Actors are employed by the Globe for the duration of the project. Pretty much all actors are freelance in the United Kingdom. However, some of them have worked for the Globe before. For both actors playing Hamlet, this is their first commitment with the Globe.
AO: You performed in Alexandria, Egypt, on one night only. Do you always give only one performance per country?
TM: We always love to do more than one show and we do if we have time. However, we also realise that we cannot push ourselves too much. It is already a very demanding schedule, with all those countries in two years. We have to keep moving ...