Displaying the power of theatre

The Globe's travelling production of Hamlet has toured for 16 months to 130 cities.
The Globe's travelling production of Hamlet has toured for 16 months to 130 cities. PHOTO: SHAKESPEARE'S GLOBE

With a cast of eight that can play every character, The Globe's touring production of Hamlet is a clever showcase of craft

There have been many contemporary Hamlets trying to make meaning of Shakespeare's most textured, profound play.

Benedict Cumberbatch most recently played the Sherlockian, rational Hamlet. Simon Russell Beale walked on the edge of grief. Mark Rylance descended into madness.

In The Globe's solid touring production of Hamlet, Naeem Hayat's Danish prince is a slight, willowy figure and he embraces this. His Hamlet is sort of a nerdy know-it-all - a smart but sheltered public schoolboy who has just emerged from his first year at a posh university, learnt the philosophy of the self and decided to impose his purely academic knowledge onto real life.

This Hamlet is not comfortable in his own skin. He is all elbows and knees, riddled with nervous tics, so preoccupied by his inner world that he fails to notice the real one. It is a fascinating and well-studied take on a Hamlet often played with swagger and bravado as the paragon of angsty machismo.


  • HAMLET/Shakespeare's Globe


The story of Hamlet will be familiar to most. Hamlet's father, the King, dies mysteriously. His ghost demands that Hamlet avenge him and kill his uncle Claudius, who committed the murder, seized the throne and, in really bad taste, also married Hamlet's mother.


  • WHERE: Capitol Theatre

    WHEN: Tomorrow at 7.45pm and Saturday at 2.30 and 7.45pm

    ADMISSION: $68 to $148 from Sistic (excludes booking fee; call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg)

Hamlet tumbles into an abyss of self-doubt, questioning himself, his friends and family, and life itself.

The Globe's globetrotting production is a lean, athletic one, with a fighting-fit ensemble that has, at this point, toured for 16 months to 130 cities. The actors change up their parts every night, with the role of Hamlet shared between Hayat and Ladi Emeruwa, who did not perform the night I reviewed.

The play is so finely dissected and well-structured that eight rotating cast members can play every single character each night, taking on a variety of parts with complete ease and turning the travelling show's constraints into a clever showcase of craft.

An actress might play the accordion in a jaunty opening overture, then slip into the part of love-struck Ophelia, and then provide the eerie soundscape (a bow on a cymbal) to the appearance of the King's ghost.

Interestingly enough, Claudius, the late King, and the player who plays the King in a play-within-a-play are all played by the same actor (Rawiri Paratene), offering a great deal of meta-theatrical food for thought.

The set is a small one, the kind a troupe of travelling players might set up on a street corner, and one that feels out of place in the ornate formality of the Capitol Theatre.

When Hamlet points to the heavens and despairs that "I have of late... lost all my mirth", even when gazing upon the "brave o'erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted with golden fire", one wishes we could look up and see the stars.

It was this beautiful soliloquy that captured my heart, not the great monologue in Hamlet that often casts a long shadow over the play. "To be or not to be" is often looked to as the very definition of Hamlet's existential dilemma.

But it is Hamlet's realisation that he cannot find a reason to live that is even more affecting.

What is man, he asks, "what is this quintessence of dust?" Hamlet so desperately wants to live up to his father's final demand, to shed the boy and become the man. But as he torments himself with what-ifs, how-nows and clever strategems, he loses sight of himself.

The bright spots of humour also serve to make this tragedy even more deeply felt. John Dougall's Polonius is one of the most hilarious I have seen, an insufferable old man who relishes the sound of his own voice.

Amanda Wilkin's Ophelia, sadly, does not carry the same stage presence, with little to no chemistry with Hamlet and offering a clunky, unconvincing show of insanity when he spurns her. But there is no doubt that the cast is superbly rehearsed, with not a cue out of place.

Director Dominic Dromgoole and his team have stripped the play down to focus on the family drama and the ultimate tragedy at its heart: Even in death, the hero does not realise that he has clung to the wrong epiphany about life and that fate has held the reins all along.

But more than that, they have created a production that reminds the audience of the power of theatre.

Hamlet plays the director at one point, telling the itinerant players that "the purpose of playing... was and is, to hold, as 'twere, the mirror up to nature".

It is in this Hamlet that we can see the everyman, a man we can empathise with, plagued with the same doubts and questions of purpose that we all wrestle with. It allows us a brief and intense confrontation with the nature of life, and then the travelling show is off again, taking this intimate experience of one man's struggle to a universal stage across the globe.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 10, 2015, with the headline 'Displaying the power of theatre'. Print Edition | Subscribe