TOPICS > Arts

To be … performed: Hamlet to haunt stages in every country in the world

April 25, 2014 at 6:47 PM EDT
The most famous words of the most famous play of the most famous playwright of the English language will soon be echoed all over the earth. In honor of William Shakespeare’s 450th birthday, Shakespeare’s Globe Theater hopes to perform “Hamlet” in every country in the world. Jeffrey Brown talks to artistic director Dominic Dromgoole about the ambitious project and the timeless text.
LISTEN SEE PODCASTS

TRANSCRIPT

JUDY WOODRUFF: Some four centuries after the death of William Shakespeare, London’s Globe Theatre is launching a plan to take the playwright’s tale of a tormented prince around the world.

Jeff is back with more on that.

KENNETH BRANAGH, Actor: To be or not to be.

JEFFREY BROWN: Famous words, famous play, the most famous playwright in the English language.

William Shakespeare wrote “Hamlet” in the early 17th century, shortly after his acting company, Lord Chamberlain’s Men, moved into the Globe playhouse. In 1997, a reconstructed theater opened on the Thames River as Shakespeare’s Globe.

Now the ambitious plan is to take “Hamlet” to every country on Earth over the next two years, a project that began in London on Wednesday, Shakespeare’s 450th birthday.

I talked earlier today to the Globe’s artistic director, Dominic Dromgoole.

Thanks for joining us.

In announcing this, you yourself said it was a — quote — “lunatic idea.” So the first question, of course, why do it?

DOMINIC DROMGOOLE, Artistic Director, Shakespeare’s Globe: Why not?

All of the best ideas are a little bit mad. Two years ago, we did a very, very crazy idea, a festival where we invited 37 countries from all across the world to come and do the complete works of Shakespeare, all in their own languages, as a six-week festival. That was crazy enough.

But we wanted to cap that and we wanted to go a little bit further and to celebrate Shakespeare, celebrate the international reach of Shakespeare, but also to cement a lot of relationships that we had formed when we did that festival and see if we could start a whole lot of new relationships as well.

And when you come up with the idea that, you know, it’s a bold idea, it’s a stupid idea, it’s a happy idea, and they sort of have their own logic, those ideas.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, I think we’re used to the idea of universal themes in Shakespeare, but what specifically in “Hamlet” do you think speaks to everyone? What do you want it to say all over the world?

DOMINIC DROMGOOLE: Well, the great thing about “Hamlet” is that it’s always challenging.

Hamlet says that time is out of joint, and he’s a man who’s got a sensibility that doesn’t fit in his own age. He’s troubled by a sense of modernity in an age that doesn’t particularly understand him. And that makes sense everywhere. That makes sense in England at the moment, where a lot of people, whether they’re young or old or whoever they are, feel a sense of dissatisfaction, a sense of discontent, a sense that they don’t understand the world around them.

This is true in America, I’m sure, and it’s true in a lot of different places that are in a very different historical moment and in a very different political situation.

So “Hamlet” is always challenging, it’s always provoking, it’s always troubling, but it can also inspire, and it can also console. So it’s a sort of gloriously variable, protean play that can cope with a whole collection of different situations. And it’s beautiful and it’s a great story.

JEFFREY BROWN: The themes may be universal, but the language isn’t, the setting of the play isn’t, the politics of these countries are different. Have you thought about how you overcome those challenges?

DOMINIC DROMGOOLE: Yes, it’s challenges that we faced when we did this festival a couple of years ago. We had a lot of hot issues to handle. We had a lot of objections to us bringing a lot of the different countries.

There was one group of people that objected to us bringing Israel. Another group of people objected to us bringing Palestine. And we were determined that we would have both of those countries within our festival.

And it’s that spirit of inclusion, rather than exclusion, that we’re following with this. We don’t want to sort of start saying, you qualify for Shakespeare, you qualify for “Hamlet,” you don’t, because we don’t feel we have the right to do that. I think that every country in the world, every group of people in the world has an equal right to “Hamlet.”

And I think “Hamlet” can be of equal benefit for all of them. So there will be challenges, but, you know, we like challenges. You can’t be put off by those things. You have got to be inspired by those things.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, going to every country means going into some different places, of course, Syria, the Central African Republic, and many others.

What about the physical challenge of performing in such situations?

DOMINIC DROMGOOLE: Well, we have got to be very careful.

We have got to be sensible. And we’re not doing it out of a spirit of recklessness. But I think that, you know, if we can get into every place, if we can find a way, whether it’s through dealing with NGOs, whether it’s through going to refugee camps, or whatever it is, we do want to get in every country, because we want to celebrate the ability of everybody to enjoy this fantastic and beautiful play.

JEFFREY BROWN: I understand you’re going to Ukraine at a particularly important moment. Tell us about that.

DOMINIC DROMGOOLE: Yes.

No, I think we’re going to be in Kiev in four or five weeks’ time, just the night before the election. We will be playing in a theater, and we’re also going to try and do a short show in Maidan Square, where a lot of the protesting was going on. And it will be thrilling. That’s when theater is at its most exciting and best, when it can talk to a people who are in a very current and very live political moment. So it will be a real privilege.

JEFFREY BROWN: So, this is a two-year project.

DOMINIC DROMGOOLE: Two years, yes.

JEFFREY BROWN: You have got the actors, the crew, the money to pull this off?

DOMINIC DROMGOOLE: Yes. No, we have already started. We have done two shows, one at Middle Temple Hall. We have done one at the Globe itself. On Sunday, we get on a boat and we sail off to Holland, which is our first stop.

No, I mean, we could always do with more money. There’s a Kickstarter campaign that we’re running, if anybody wants to help us along the way, but we’re comfortable we’re going to be able to manage it.

JEFFREY BROWN: Dominic Dromgoole is the artistic director of the Globe Theatre in London.

Thanks so much, and good luck.

DOMINIC DROMGOOLE: Pleasure. Thank you very much.