Shakespeare’s Hamlet Arrives In Erbil
Iraq is 188th country in two-year world tour
Director Dominic Dromgoole describes it as a “good, strong, simple, stupid idea.” And after 102 weeks and performances in 187 countries, London’s Globe Theatre is nearing the end of its impressive mission to take Hamlet to all corners of the earth.
“Globe to Globe Hamlet is a very simple idea, where we’ve taken Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, one of his many masterpieces, to every single country on earth. It’s a good, strong, simple, stupid idea. And like all stupid ideas, people get very involved in it very easily. We’ve so far played to 187 countries around the world; we’re on the last leg with only two weeks left to go,” Dromgoole told reporters before staging the play in Erbil. “We’ve tried our danmdest to get into every country, but there are certain countries we haven’t been able to get into because they’ve been deemed too dangerous. Where that’s happened we have played often to the people of that country in refugee sites near the country itself.”
One of the camps that the company has visited is Zaatar in Jordan. Ladi Emeruwa, who plays Hamlet, explained how weather bought a little too much realism to the staging there. “During the performance there was a sandstorm that engulfed the entire room and this coincided with the appearance of the ghost. The sky turned red, which was all a little bit too much for the children in the audience who ran away.”
Emeruwa didn’t take the stage during Tuesday’s show. The role of Hamlet, like many in the production, is shared and was played by Naeem Hayat. The cast bounced through the play with an energy that suggested no fatigue, and switching roles for each production no doubt holds the actors’ interest.
Dromgoole explained that going on the road has always been a part of the Shakespeare experience for actors. “Shakespeare’s stories began travelling only four or five years after he first wrote them. In 1608, five years after Hamlet was written, it was performed on a ship off the coast of Sierra Leone. And Shakespeare’s plays travelled in English all across northern and eastern Europe five, ten, fifteen years after he wrote them. These plays were written not just for the Globe theatre itself, but also to travel, to go around the world.
“Two years ago on 23 April 2014, 450 years after the birth of Shakespeare, we began this production at the Globe and then we climbed into a boat on the Thames River and we sailed down the Thames and across the North Sea to Holland and played our first performance in Amsterdam. Since then we have travelled around the world by plane, boat, car, by bus, even once in a hearse!”
The director outlined his philosophy in sharing culture, specifically Shakespeare, around the world. “We believe passionately that when you attempt something like this inclusion should mean inclusion. There are many people that say ‘don’t go here, don’t go there’, but we very determined that everywhere means everywhere.” He says that Shakespeare’s work is the embodiment of that inclusion.
“What we do take away from his work, because he writes with such empathy and such compassion and such imagination, we understand that every single person is important – if it’s a king, if it’s a messenger, if it’s a young person in love, if it’s a young warrior, every single person that comes on stage matters and from that we take a fascination with personality and from that comes a beginning of the understanding of democracy, I think.”
When asked what a difference Hamlet could make in Iraq, Dromgoole pointed out that the British tradition of theatre is much younger than that in this region. “We are very aware, especially when we are in this part of the world, that we are meeting cultures that are more ancient, more rich than our own. You were making theatre, swapping theatre, touring theatre when we were still in caves.”