Hamlet around the world in 2 years

Shakespeare's Globe's production of Hamlet at the Shabyt Palace of Arts (above) in Kazakhstan last September and at the Tallinn City Theatre in Estonia (left) in May last year.
Shakespeare's Globe's production of Hamlet at the Shabyt Palace of Arts (above) in Kazakhstan last September and at the Tallinn City Theatre in Estonia in May last year.PHOTO: COURTESY OF SHAKESPEARE'S GLOBE
Shakespeare's Globe's production of Hamlet at the Shabyt Palace of Arts (above) in Kazakhstan last September and at the Tallinn City Theatre in Estonia (left) in May last year.
Shakespeare's Globe's production of Hamlet at the Shabyt Palace of Arts in Kazakhstan last September and at the Tallinn City Theatre in Estonia (above) in May last year.PHOTO: COURTESY OF SHAKESPEARE'S GLOBE

The multinational touring cast of Shakespeare's Globe enjoy performing in street clothes and with improvised props

The cast and crew of Hamlet by Shakespeare's Globe arrived on the tiny Pacific island of Kiribati in late June to put on the Bard's famous tragedy - only to find that their set and costumes had not made it on time.

The show is transported in 11 trunks, four ski bags, one large drum box and four instrument cases, with a combined weight of over 500kg.

But the show must go on, as did the Globe's ambitious production of Hamlet, which is travelling to 205 nations around the world. It started in April last year and will end in April next year.

Globe associate producer Tamsin Meht says the group can react with great speed and ingenuity to last-minute problems. She says: "When our trunks went missing, we replaced them with chairs and benches. When our backcloths didn't arrive with us, we found tarpaulins and cloths.

"This show is all about the story and the characters, it does not rely on technical gimmicks or tricks. I think my favourite replacement prop has to be children's-size pool cues instead of swords."

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    Where: Capitol Theatre

    When: Sept 8, 9 & 11, 7.45pm; Sept 12, 2.30 & 7.45pm

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The Kaselehlie Press, a newspaper from Micronesia, wrote of the play: "Some who saw last night's performance said the absence of props and costumes probably made the show even more unique. Many credited the incredible talent of the actors with making the performance work even though they were wearing street clothes and had make-do props."

Actress Jennifer Leong, 26, says: "We actually found that quite liberating. It's back to basics, back to the story - and it's back to trying to get your audience to really listen, and to try and carry them along. For me, it's great training and I really enjoyed it."

She was speaking to Life over the telephone from London together with Ladi Emeruwa, 26, one of the two actors who alternate playing the demanding titular role of Hamlet. They are on a short break before flying to China for performances in Shanghai and Beijing.

While excited to speak about the play, there remains a residual edge of exhaustion in their voices.

Singapore will be their 129th stop, inbetween Hong Kong and Baku in Azerbaijan. The iconic play, about a Danish prince bent on avenging his murdered father, will run here from Sept 8 to 12 at Capitol Theatre.

But they have not just played in glitzy theatres in gleaming capitals, they have also performed in open town squares where people climbed trees to see them, and tiny black boxes. In fact, before they return to the Globe in London for the final performance next April, they will be performing in Denmark's Elsinore Castle - where Hamlet is actually set.

Emeruwa says: "One of the most memorable moments for me early on was when we performed in an amphitheatre in Macedonia. I remember walking out to the pre-show and there was a wall of 3,000 people cheering and shouting. It was an amazing sight."

Apart from the two Hamlets - Emeruwa, who was born in Nigeria, and London-born Naeem Hayat, whose family is from Pakistan - the members of the multinational cast play different characters for every show. This means they have to be constantly on their toes.

Hong Kong-born Leong, for instance, plays the parts of Ophelia, Horatio and Rosencrantz.

She says: "The really interesting thing about playing different characters at different venues is that you get to see the play from so many different points of view. One night, this person could be my father and the next night, he could be my king.

"Even if we play the same part, we tend to approach it differently. Sometimes I'd just be standing in the wings and think, 'oh, that's a new way of saying my line and maybe I can try to do that the next time I play this character' or 'oh, that's a really interesting thing that was fleshed out by that actor, I've never thought about it like that before'. It's a constant learning process."

Emeruwa adds: "We had six weeks of rehearsals and ordinarily that would have been a lot of time, but because we were essentially rehearsing an infinite number of plays, it really was like flying by the seat of our pants. It took a while before we got very comfortable with the play."

The cast of 12 have been travelling non-stop around the world for the past 15 months, sometimes spending only three days in one place before flying to the next stop. It is not the jet lag that has caught up with them - it is the sheer lack of sleep.

Leong says: "Because we're trying to cram in so many countries, the challenge is to get enough sleep once we're there. We do have certain days when we get up quite early in the morning, catch a flight and that same night, we do a show."

Ms Mehta says the team has "faced a huge range of challenging spaces", including a half-outdoor amphitheatre in Botswana where the crew had to collect large rocks to weigh down pieces of the set, and the United Nations' headquarters in New York, where they had to build a raised stage over the permanent central desk in one of the chambers and battled "seriously intense security clearance".

Leong had, in fact, interned at the United Nations during her university days and bumped into a former colleague at the show.

Many of the countries the Globe has visited and is planning to visit have gone through authoritarian regimes or power struggles, such as Myanmar or North Korea.

Leong says: "What's really interesting is what people take from the show. Certain people would have gone through civil war or certain political regimes and certain lines of the play would then really speak to them.

"In the end, Hamlet is a play that has a lot to do with power play and some elements in it that talk about regimes changing and one family rising and falling, and things like that. We don't have to play it up. It's already there. It depends on what people have gone through in their personal and political lives."

•Follow Corrie Tan on Twitter @CorrieTan

For more pictures of Hamlet's world tour, go to http://str.sg/Z7fa

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 25, 2015, with the headline 'Hamlet around the world in 2 years'. Print Edition | Subscribe