HAMLET’s concluding NYT piece as our historic tour ends

SLIEMA, Malta — Minutes before the curtain was set to rise on a production of “Hamlet” at the Salesian Theater here, two buses carrying around 25 refugees pulled up in front of the century-old building. The migrants, mostly young men from Africa in hoodies and baggy jeans, hustled into the theater and took their seats to curious stares from some of the older Maltese members of the audience.

The lights dimmed and the actors playing the guards at Elsinore launched into their familiar lines, just as they had well over 150 times in the past two years, as part of “Globe to Globe Hamlet,” a project by Shakespeare’s Globe theater to present the play in every country in the world.

Often playing in small theaters and to audiences who may never have seen a professional production, the Globe is presenting a stripped-down version of “Hamlet” with eight to 12 cast members, light live instrumentation and a spare set. The tour started in 2014, on the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth, and will end next month in London — after around 200 countries — to commemorate the 400th anniversary of his death.

Along the way, the mostly young, multicultural cast has endured the usual inconveniences of life on the road, including visa problems, lost luggage and endless takeout food. But they have also performed during a riot, encountered racially charged comments from audiences and narrowly missed the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

A world tour is in keeping with the “Hamlet” tradition, said Dominic Dromgoole, the artistic director of Shakespeare’s Globe, noting that “Hamlet” was performed on a ship off what is now Sierra Leone just five years after its London debut, which occurred around 1600.

“Shakespeare not being the possession of one country or one culture has always been part of the stories,” Mr. Dromgoole said.


African refugees were bused from a camp to see “Hamlet” in Sliema, Malta. CreditGianni Cipriano for The New York Times

The show last month in Sliema was something of a doubleheader: In addition to a Maltese audience, the company hoped to play for Libyan refugees, who have been steadily arriving in recent years.

The effort was something short of a success. At the advice of a local government agency, the Globe paid for buses to bring the refugees to the theater, rather than performing in the centers where they live — many behind guarded gates in modular metal units. Seventy seats had been reserved, but just two dozen refugees showed up, few of them Libyans.

The young men, mainly from Senegal and Gambia, listened quietly.

During intermission, the group decided, in a flash, to leave. Two French-speaking men from Senegal said outside the theater that they were having fun but had trouble understanding. In addition, the migrants were tired, the agency worker who had brought them said, and some had work early the next day.

“Hamlet” drew a standing ovation. The cast members said they thought the performance had gone well, though some said they had not noticed the migrants leaving. Within 45 minutes, they had packed and left the theater. The next day, they flew off for a performance in Brussels.

The “Hamlet” tour grew out of the company’s “Globe to Globe” festival in 2012, which brought troupes from across the world to London to stage Shakespeare’s plays in their own languages.

The Globe had developed a lean touring model, Mr. Dromgoole said, and “we just thought, Let’s take that form and see if we can expand it out on a much bigger canvas.”

The company quickly settled on “Hamlet,” which Mr. Dromgoole said was “beautiful and magnificently constructed, and is always throughout itself self-regenerating and finding new energy and excitement.”


The actors of the Globe to Globe “Hamlet” backstage in Sliema, Malta. CreditGianni Cipriano for The New York Times

He added: “You can never understand it. You can never go, ‘That’s what this play is about.’ It’s always elusive and it’s always strange, and you always feel that it’s much, much bigger than you are.”

Before its return to London, the group will make a penultimate stop in the real Elsinore (Helsingor in Danish).

When the tour ends, said Naeem Hayat, 27, one of the two Hamlets in the company, “We’ll have an eternity of sort of crazy memories and old-man anecdotes to tell at dinner parties.”

In Mexico, spectators scurried up lampposts and trees to get a view as the cast performed outside of a colonial cathedral. On Tuvalu, a tiny Pacific island, the show was presented alongside a road that doubled as the island’s runway and its main thoroughfare. The audience in Kiev, Ukraine, the night before the 2014 presidential election, included the candidate who would win, Petro O. Poroshenko, as well as people prominent in the citizens’ uprising that ousted his predecessor.

“It was the most glorious, electrifying night,” Mr. Dromgoole said. “It was thrilling to be in the room just as they were forging a new future for themselves.”

Other stops were more sobering. Last month, the group performed to a largely male audience at the refugee camp in Calais, France, known as “The Jungle,” where thousands of migrants had gathered in a desperate effort to get across the English Channel by train or vehicle. (The French government has begun dismantling parts of the camp.)

“It was kind of chaotic,” said Amanda Wilkin, 29, one of the actors. “Us going there kind of ignites a good debate about what human beings need.”

Dead 400 Years, but Still Very Much Alive

Shakespeare is said to have been born, and died, on April 23. This year, the 400th anniversary of his death has prompted an outpouring of celebrations. Here are a highly curated few.

There were uncomfortable moments for some of the actors in the diverse cast. Jennifer Leong, an actor from Hong Kong, said that some people told her that they had not expected to see an Asian Ophelia.

But she drew a more positive reaction in China and Hong Kong, where “Hamlet” played to students. For young people “to see someone who looks a bit like them” onstage, she said, “I think it helps for them to broaden what they think is possible.”

In Somaliland, a unrecognized republic in East Africa formed in the early 1990s, they were picked up from the airport by guards carrying automatic weapons. Clashes broke out on the streets the night they played.

The group’s hotel there “was like a fortress,” recalled Matthew Romain, 30, who plays a variety of secondary roles.

In an interview in London, Ladi Emeruwa and Mr. Romain reflected on the tour’s end. They were eager to rest but worried about resuming a more settled life — and, like all actors, wondered what their next job might be.

“Hamlet” was Mr. Emeruwa’s first professional role after drama school, and he had the opportunity to play perhaps the most famous role in Western drama on the stage of the Globe, in a refugee camp in Jordan and in Lagos, Nigeria, where he grew up.

“Sometimes when I’m just walking around London, you see somebody or you see something that reminds you” of the tour, Mr. Emeruwa said. “It’s a flashback to when you were in Victoria Falls running through clouds, or when you were performing in an amphitheater in Bitola,” in Macedonia.

After this job, Mr. Romain said, he felt he had earned his acting bona fides. “If we never work again, which is a possibility,” he said, “we’ve performed in every country in the world.”

, ,