Hamlet on stage: ‘To be, or not to be’ in Alexandria

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In the most breath-taking of shows, Shakespeare Globe Theatre took Egyptians back to the cultural life of theatre. 

For the first time in Egypt and for one night only, Hamlet, famous for the line “to be, or not to be…”, was performed live at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina (BA) this January.

Taking the production to every country in the world, Shakespeare’s Globe has been performing across the seven continents in a wide range of exceptional venues. They made their Alexandria debut in January 2015 at the BA’s Great Hall.

Visiting 68 countries and traveling over 99,998 kilometres, Egypt was their following destination after performing in Algeria and in Tunisia, with Eritrea marking their next visit.

Members of London’s famous Globe Theatre held a press conference shortly before their performance in which the cast reflected upon their short visit to Egypt.

The role of Hamlet is shared by Ladi Emeruwa and Naeem Hayat throughout the tour. All other characters will be played in rotation by Keith Bartlett, John Dougall, Miranda Foster, Phoebe Fildes, Beruce Khan, Tom Lawrence (nominated for an Outstanding Supporting Performer Helen Hayes Award in Hamlet, 2012), Jennifer Leong, Rawiri Paratene, Matthew Romain, and Amanda Wilkin.

“To be here in Bibliotheca Alexandrina is such a legendary visit for us all. Since childhood, we read a lot about Egypt. It is a great experience for me to present the show in this country and we are enjoying everything here; the vibrancy of the Arab culture, the loud laughter of people, the Egyptian extemporaneous supportive way in showing us the way whenever we feel lost, their cheerful sense of humour…It is a culture that has embraced me, on the personal level,” said Ladi Emeruwa, an actor and a producer. Ladi is also known for Hearts & Minds (2009), O. (2014) and 50 Kisses (2014).

Ladi plays the title role of the protagonist Hamlet in this ‘Globe to Globe’ production taking place over two years and touring every country in the world. “During the tour, the idea of culture mobility manifests itself most powerfully here. Travelling from one country to another; from one culture to another; from one theatre to another is a universal theme the cast was trying to prove and successfully we did,” he added.

“Every time we perform, it is compellingly different. Sometimes we perform on a beach, in a village, in a theater. The audience reaction is quite different from one place to another and every show is unique on its own because of the diversity of the audience,” actress Phoebe Fildes, who plays Ophelia, told TNN.

Phoebe is playing multiple roles in the two-year worldwide tour of the pared-down, small-scale Hamlet, which will visit all 205 countries across the globe.

“The diversity in our destinations, from an African to Asian, from an Arabian to a European country, assure me that we are all the same. All nations are the same and all people are the same. Maybe it is only politics which divide the leaders, but people are the same everywhere. That’s what surprises us the most. or me on the personal level.”

“I believe also it is the universal theme of Hamlet which makes the audience thirst everywhere for its social impact it leaves upon them. People really thirst for social issues and problems. Hamlet is all about family; about a father, a son, a mother, a father in law. It is about also human sub-consciousness versus human consciousness and our hideous fears that we try to hide, in actions changing our lives,” Phoebe added.

“We don’t try to adapt the show according to one’s culture. We are a company of 12 actors where roles are exchanged; sometimes I do Hamlet, while the next show I perform Claudius, and the following show I could wear the cloak of Polonius and that is how we do the play and the story speaks for itself,” said Rawiri Paratene, the New Zealand stage and screen actor, director and writer.

Rawirir Paretene, who is well known for his acting roles in Whale Rider (2002) and The Insatiable Moon (2010), added, “We are travelers who are carrying a story and the story incredibly and magically addresses everyone in the globe at all times, in all places.”

“We expected to find vast differences in every country we move on to but it struck me that we all are similar. All humans are similar,” Amanda Wilkin, an actress who is best known for The Tempest (2014) and Madonna of the Meadow (2011), told TNN.

“We are also so lucky so far that we haven’t got disappointed in any country we visited. I believe that is because the play deals with universal issues; what it is to be alive and what it is to be dead. We also avoid adding any political or cultural values to the show. We just speak Shakespeare’s lines and we can’t add anything to this great writer who addresses the audience globally.”

“Why we chose Hamlet rather than any other tragedy, is because of its universal themes. It deals with human consciousness, with family by large. It raises a lot of philosophical questions and Shakespeare in Hamlet is talking about humanity, not any geographical area. He is a student of human behavior.”

“That’s why Shakespeare transcends time. It has been over 450 centuries and still Hamlet is astonishingly one of the most popular names of Shakespeare’s play. I believe it is immortal and is written for eternity. We discovered that one of the most popular names in Albania, for example, is Hamlet. That’s how the tour made us feel. Hamlet doesn’t belong to England. Conversely, the plot belongs to the whole world.” Amanda added.