(News Feature) UK’s Globe Theatre brings ‘Hamlet’ to Manila as it marks 125th show in two-year world tour

August 29, 2015 5:20 am 

By Azer N. Parrocha

MANILA, Aug. 24 (PNA) — The long wait of Filipino playgoers to see a Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre production ended on Sunday (Aug. 23) as the London theater company staged Globe to Globe: Hamlet at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) Little Theater in Pasay City.

Globe to Globe: Hamlet, under the direction of the theater company’s artistic director Dominic Dromgoole and producer Steve Aronson, made only two sold-out, standing-ovation runs at the CCP's Tanghalang Aurelio Tolentino at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.

Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre or simply The Globe has been performing the tragedy about the troubled young prince of Denmark in every country in the world since April 23, 2014, the 450th birth anniversary of England’s national poet himself.

Aronson, who produced Hamlet in three countries: Costa Rica, Peru and the Philippines, said that the company is set to stage the play in 197 countries with its final performance being in their very own Globe Theatre in London on April 23, 2016, Shakespeare’s 400th death anniversary.

Made up of 12 actors, four stage managers, and a makeshift set design and props, the Globe has trotted over 80,000 miles and has done over 100 shows in over 100 countries in over a year. The Philippine is its 125th stop.

“This is the first time that The Globe has been in the Philippines but it’s also the first time The Globe has done this type of tour,” Aronson said in an interview with the Philippines News Agency (PNA) before Hamlet’s matinee show.

“This is a sort of an international celebration that the UK (United Kingdom) is doing,” he added. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime event.”

Globe-trotting

For Hamlet’s Manila leg, Aronson revealed that the original plan was to stage Hamlet in Fort Santiago in Intramuros. However, the production team was told that staging it sometime in August would mean rainy season in the country.

“It took 'about five minutes for the CCP to decide' to host this (play),” the international producer said, during a short Q&A session between cast members and the audience held right after the Hamlet’s matinee.

Eventually, it was decided that it will be staged at the CCP Little Theater the way Shakespeare’s plays would originally be performed — a basic set design, props, lighting design, and no microphones.

Aronson revealed that while he was in Manila a few days earlier, the rest of the team and cast arrived Saturday noon (Aug 22.) to set up their equipment, get sleep and prepare for two shows on Sunday (Aug. 23).

He said that the team and cast were scheduled to leave the country Monday night (Aug. 24) after making a short, private tour at Intramuros guided by cultural activist and theater enthusiast Carlos Celdran.

Hamlet is usually staged three to four times in every country, sometimes it’s only one show in one country.

When asked if there were plans of extending runs in the Philippines, Amanda Wilkin, who played the character Horatio during the Manila edition’s matinee, said that time constraints meant that runs were always limited.

“We would love to but we would have to squeeze every single nation in two years,” Wilkin said, adding that to her, days were literally classified as “travel days” and “show days.”

Matthew Romain, who played Laertes, said that the tour is already neatly sandwiched between the beginning of the tour held on Shakespeare’s 450th birthday and the end of the tour held on his 400th death anniversary.

It was also revealed that their ultimate stop would be the Elsinore Castle in Denmark — complete “with Yorick’s actual skull,” as actor Keith Bartlett who played Polonius quipped.

Receptions, anecdotes

Tom Lawrence, who played Rosencrantz, said that while it was exciting to stage the play in countries that knew a lot about Shakespeare’s works, staging the play in a place that only knew little about Shakespeare was most rewarding and a different story.

“Often, the most rewarding is when we perform in countries that normally don’t get the chance to see us,” Lawrence admitted.

Each cast member also shared anecdotes from their trips, including embarrassing moments on stage to instances that tested their ingenuity as well as patience.

In one instance, curtains got stuck in a particular scene; in another instance, the lights failed halfway through the show. The cast said that there were logistic problems such as having to make quick decisions to move the indoor set to an outdoor venue.

Lawrence recalled performing in a tiny strip of land in the middle of the Pacific where there was barely space for an airport, and the main road is the landing strip.

“We played next to that (landing strip) and animals came and joined us. A lot of times we find ourselves with challenges we can’t prepare for, including people chatting, responding vocally, or leaving the theater,” he added.

Romain said that there were also times that a particular audience was stoic and quiet but eventually garnered what he described as “a rapturous applause.”

“Everywhere we’ve been we’ve been surprised by something in the audience,” he said.

Training, preparation

Lawrence said that rehearsal period lasts for more or less two weeks where they decide on different combinations of the same 12 actors taking on two to three different roles in different runs.

“We begin with two weeks on the table getting a shared interpretation of what the words mean fundamentally, discussing what’s relevant — what’s most likely to resonate,” Lawrence said.

“This particular production is a combination of several different texts of Hamlet. We simply let the language tell the story and not layer it too much with concept or very direct resonances to the landscape of the time,” he added.

As for the set design, Romain said that the setup was constructed in such that it’s “quite fluid.”

“The concept of set design is simplicity,” he said, so that the whole set, including props, can easily be taken everywhere.

Most of Hamlet’s props consist of trunks and planks which, when placed on top of each other, serve as another prop such as a boat, a throne or a grave when necessary.

When asked if Hamlet was able to successfully cross the language barrier, particularly in non-English speaking countries, cast members said that it was almost never a problem although scene synopses and sub-titles flashed during the play.

“We’re not trying to set Hamlet in a particular time. We just want to be able to tell the story as clearly as possible,” Romain said.

On playing the titular-role, Naeem Hayat, one of the two actors playing Hamlet, said that various actors both on stage and film have played the coveted role so comparison was unavoidable.

“There’s always actors to compare yourself to. I personally try not to watch anybody do anything to do with Hamlet while I’m doing it,” Hayat quipped.

“One of either two things happen — you see lots of great stuff and try to emulate it or get very self-conscious and don’t allow yourself to be free and bring your own creativity,” he added.

Hamlet has been played by popular London stage actors such as Henry Irving to big-name TV actors such as Benedict Cumberbatch but what sets Globe Theatre’s Hamlet apart? Hayat said it’s finding the essence of yourself.

“For an actor doing any part that has been played many times, it’s about finding some essence of yourself rather than worrying what these great actors have done. Otherwise, it would get to crippling.”

Hayat alternates with Ladi Emeruwa, who played Hamlet during Manila leg’s 8 p.m. show.

Why Hamlet?

Aside from it being one of the greatest if not the greatest Shakespearean play, Aronson said the fact that Hamlet has so much history since it has been staged many times in many ways makes it a challenge for the actors.

“It’s more than a graduation — this a world cup for them (the actors) to do the most produced, most well-known play,” Aronson said.

“I’ve seen it many times and each time I’ve seen it I’ve identified with different characters. You might say it’s a story of a young man who just came out of college but actually it’s also the story of his uncle, his mother, the relationship of his family. I think it appeals to everybody in different ways,” he added.

Hayat, for his part, said that Hamlet is a story that is universal.

“It’s about everything you can imagine: Family, love, politics, existence — what it means to be a human being,” he said.

Hamlet stars Keith Bartlett, Phoebe Fildes, Beruce Khan, Amanda Wilkin, Ladi Emeruwa, Matthew Romain, John Dougall, Jennifer Leong, Rawiri Paratene, Naeem Hayat, Tom Lawrence and Miranda Foster.

After its Manila leg, the cast will be performing in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea on Aug. 25. (PNA)

SCS/ANP

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