You have to hand it to Dominic Dromgoole, the Artistic Director of Shakespeare’s Globe: he’s not afraid of a challenge. Looking to beat the 2012 Globe to Globe Festival project, his latest scheme is to take Hamlet on World Tour, and when he says World, he means all of it. “I think having a lunatic idea is a very good thing, it’s a great way to keep everybody focused and dazzled and delighted by the ambition and energy of the company,” he said. “If we’re going to do every country in the world it has to be every country, we’re not going to leave anyone out.”
This means 205 countries in two years, beginning on 23 April 2014, 450 years since Shakespeare’s birth and ending on 23 April 2016, 400 years since his death. Hopefully the company won’t often find themselves asking “What country, friend, is this?”, though as the schedule works out at two a week they could hardly be blamed for getting confused.
I thought the 2012 Globe to Globe sounded more than “slightly mad” when first announced, with 37 Shakespeare plays in 37 different languages staged in London by companies from around the world over a period of just a few weeks. The project included Troilus and Cressida in Maori and Coriolanus in Japanese, among many others.
Globe to Globe Hamlet will be playing a tried and tested two and a half hour version of the play which they’ve already taken on tour around Britain, Europe and the United States. Twelve actors will play in rotation, eight at a time to give everyone some time off and to allow for unforeseen events. Touring has always been hard work. Dromgoole states that “the spirit of touring…was always central to Shakespeare’s work”, but it may be worth remembering that the players in Hamlet are forced to travel not because they want to, but because the fashion for boys’ companies has forced them to find new audiences.
They’ll travel by automobile, boat, train and plane, and will perform in town squares, on beaches and in jungle clearings as well as the odd theatre. Will they go to places mentioned in Hamlet: Vienna in Austria, Paris in France, and in Italy, the Capitol in Rome, as well as the already-confirmed final performance at Elsinore Castle on 23 April 2016?
The logistics make my head spin, and I’m hoping they have a crack team of administrators/fixers to help sort out not just the transport and fundraising but also the diplomatic issues for countries like North Korea. Antarctica will be a challenge for other reasons, but the line “‘Tis bitter cold, and I am sick at heart”, will certainly strike a chord with the audience (will this consist of the Antarctic survey team, or a few million penguins, I wonder?).
I’m also intrigued to think how this marathon will be recorded. The Globe to Globe Festival productions were part of the 2012 Year of Shakespeare, and the Year of Shakespeare website was created to collect together basic information about the productions and reviews of them. Earlier this year a book was published that put this material into printed form.
This new project has the potential to be yet more influential, and to find more new ways of recording performance. The play will be captioned for non English-speaking countries, and some of the countries have never see staged Shakespeare at all before. Being able to access people’s reactions by recording members of the audience on the spot, but also allowing them to post their own impressions, could be terrific. Hopefully photographs will be taken of each venue, cast and crew will be writing a blog as they go, and there will be efforts to capture local responses in each place whatever the medium: TV, radio, newspapers. It’s a project that could really show off the potential of the internet to connect people from around the world through Shakespeare. If you’re interested in seeing how the project develops a Twitter feed @WorldHamlet has already been set up.
While Shakespeare’s Globe has embraced the idea of transmitting performances to audiences via the cinema and DVD, nothing beats the experience of live performance. Those involved will need stamina, good health and a robust sense of humour as well as acting ability, and taking part is sure to be a life-changing experience. Hopefully it will also have a long-term effect in the far-flung places visited by the tour. All the world’s a stage indeed.