Friday Review

A Hamlet, and three more

HAMLET, THE EVERYMAN (left) Matthew Romain playing Hamlet ; (above) Ladi Emeruwa and Nayeem Hayat the two star Hamlets on this tour Photos: courtesy Lekha Naidu and Globe

HAMLET, THE EVERYMAN (left) Matthew Romain playing Hamlet ; (above) Ladi Emeruwa and Nayeem Hayat the two star Hamlets on this tour Photos: courtesy Lekha Naidu and Globe  


Globe Theatre’s Hamlet, which is on a two-year world tour of 205 nations, stopped over at Bangalore recently.

Did Shakespeare have a single language? If he did, then which one was it? From his many worlds of experiences, if Shakespeare created a world of languages, readers and audiences across the globe have appropriated him in to their own. A diverse cultural group that constituted the London Globe theatre came with several language memories, with several Englishes, and during the 150-minute performance, one was also, invariably listening to all those passionate teachers who left Shakespeare on your tongue and in your heart — the culturally reformulated Shakespeare, from the verdant pastures of regional languages.

At Ranga Shankara last week – the theatre that has the distinction of bringing the Globe to India – witnessing Hamlet, one heard resonances of Stephen Greenblatt’s influential new historicism theory: the boundaries between text and context and history and fiction stood obliterated. As languages on the stage crisscrossed with those of the mind, Shakespeare’s Hamlet reopened a creative dialogue.

While multicasting is not such a new idea in professional theatre companies, it seemed to gain special meaning in the case of this production. There were three Hamlets, each of them coming from different nationalities and hence different languages and worldviews. “Shakespeare is national writer, an asset, so on and so forth,” said Matthew Romain, who plays one of the three Hamlets. “But on this tour I have realised how universal Shakespeare is, and how Britain has left an indelible mark on the world through him. While we have given to the world we are also taking back an enriched version of Shakespeare. This journey has been a reflection of how Shakespeare is everyone’s.”

Did you hear the moor Hamlet? That’s exactly how Ladi Emeruwa from Nigeria, the second Hamlet appears – as a combination of Hamlet and Othello. “Maybe people did look at me strangely, but no one has ever mentioned it. Colour doesn’t seem to matter, nationality doesn’t seem to matter. I think some change has come about, and people are willing to believe that modern families can look like this. Father’s white, son is black…,” explains the actor with a rare intensity. Why does Shakespeare appear so unique coming from him? “We rehearse together in the same room, and are constantly influencing each other. Yet, we will remain unique, because of the way our bodies speak and the cultures we belong to. The languages we speak, the lives we lead -- we will bring that unique dimension to Hamlet. I have seen so many legendary actors perform this iconic character and each is distinct. With all our reading and understanding and rehearsals, something happens within, it just unfolds on stage. These magical occurrences happen only when there is a suspension of disbelief, when nationality, colour, language and race just disappear.”

Nayeem Hayat, who has a Pakistani lineage, is the most celebrated Hamlet of the three. He is continuously aware of the churning that Hamlet goes through within all of them, but is also surprised how different portions of the text elicit different kinds of response in different parts of the world. For instance, a Rwandian audience reacts completely differently from the audience in Mexico. “It is a rare thing for an actor to be able to say that they can see the show that they’re in and then get the chance to do it with that insight. It is very very rare. And an incredibly insightful experience,” observes Nayeem, speaking of a hyper local phenomena that shapes the global.

Every Hamlet invariably begins with the idea of self. “The self is the core. But all of us in some sense work as under study to each other, in an oblique sort of way. Nayeem and Ladi are the ones who play Hamlet mostly, and I learnt it on the road, very much like a traditional understudy.”

But when does Hamlet cross the trappings of self, languages and readings? “Hamlet is so special because he is normal, like an everyman,” says Matthew. “He is me and you, and the other person. He is dealing with questions that you and I would ask. Hamlet is complex because he is normal. This is what is very challenging to me. I don't think I ever will achieve the Hamlet who inhabits my mind. It is a constant rediscovery, finding and realising.” Hamlet, says Nayeem, is an eternal debate within yourself, a process of self-reflection. “Every performance is a final one, since that is the first and the last performance before a particular audience. He is complicated and complex. You cannot give anything inferior than the best.” Matthew says how he got immersed in the texts, “but that is not always helpful”. Hamlet, for an actor, should not exist too much on the page, but has to be lived and breathed. “I enjoy reading him, but seeing him is more enjoyable,” echoing what several scholars believe -- theatre productions have had a greater creative dialogue with Shakespeare than academics and critics.

Globe Theatre’s Hamlet was lively and enjoyable. A professional team of competent actors doubled as many characters, as musicians and more. The sets elegant, lighting superb, and properties authentic and imaginative. The play shedding its royal hangovers came in the garb of the common man, bringing it close to everyone. But there is more to a play than a good performance. Even with a perfect rendition one missed the deeper registers. The lines that one longingly waited for, came and went, without causing a flutter. But then, isn’t one always grateful to one’s fertile backyard? My Shakespeare made a quiet back door entry and led me through the frontyard. After all, didn’t we say that Shakespeare wrote in many languages, including regional English?

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Printable version | Jan 20, 2020 11:39:35 PM |

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