2017-10-12 / Opinions

Book Review

Hamlet Globe to Globe
Reviewed by

“In honor of the transcendent ubiquity of the play

Hamlet, on 23 April 2014, 450 years after the birth of Shakespeare, the Globe theatre, in response to a daft idea, set out on an artistic adventure.” That idea was to take a touring company from the Globe Theater in London to every country in the world (that’s 204 countries or maybe 197, depending on how many were deemed to be countries at the moment). Exactly two years later, on the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, the same sixteen people returned to the Globe.

They chose to perform Hamlet across the earth because “Hamlet is beautiful, a necessity, it is ram-packed with iconic moments which translate across cultures, a necessity, but most important of all it is mysterious, the greatest necessity.” You don’t have to be a fan of either Hamlet or Shakespeare to enjoy this account, though it would probably help.

Dominic Dromgoole was the artistic director of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London from 2006 to 2016. He supervised the formidable task of organizing the selection of actors and managers and arranging where to go and when. He stayed in London but went as often as he could to check on his people, the performances, and their hosts. He takes us with him, building suspense (falling sets, illness, strange accommodations), but holding up the amazing dedication and stamina of the twelve actors and four stage managers who made the journey.

In selecting the members of the touring company, in addition to obvious talent and good health, they looked for people who could be trusted. “The importance of trust, and goodwill, were maximized on this tour by the many potential difficulties involved.” They needed good actors, but equally important, they needed good people.

They gathered three experienced men to alternate in the senior roles of Claudius, Polonius, the Ghost, etc. Two young actors shared the roles of Horatio, Laertes, Fortinbras, etc. Three actresses played Gertrude and Ophelia, and also “crossed gender lines” sometimes. They rehearsed as a “squad” changing parts and serving where needed in often very strange venues. Amazingly, all served to the end of those two years.

Dromgoole supplies the itinerary with chapter breaks: Germany to Sweden to Russia to Cyprus to Iceland to Cuba to the USA to the Pacific to the Middle East – an exhausting list – just to read. Along the way, he shares insights about the play – the plot, the lines, the history. It’s fascinating reading from a person who is intimately familiar with Hamlet and Shakespeare’s work.

He explains the precarious financial plan for the tour (charge the wealthy countries and subsidize the less wealthy). Often the venues were out-of-doors, subject to rain or heat or cold. Political conditions in the nations they visited varied, of course, and they met with some opposition, some civil unrest, but most often with enthusiastic welcome. They found that Hamlet, restless for truth and honesty, belonged everywhere.

Hamlet Globe to Globe is available at the Mary Willis Library.

Return to top