“Being in the rehearsal room has opened up so many things – how clever Hamlet is, how funny he is, how much wit he has. And that’s the thing about those speeches like to be or Not to be. He has such a sharp mind he questions things.”
In his first interview Naeem talk about his initial impressions of the play and of Hamlet, and how it compares to what he thought he knew about it before starting.
Time: 10 minutes 41 seconds
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Transcript of Podcast
Phil Brooks: Welcome to the Adopt an Actor podcast series. This is the first interview with Naeem Hayat who is one of the Hamlets in the upcoming two year Hamlet world tour.
So how familiar were you with the play?
NH: I think quite familiar. Well, I’d seen productions of it, I’d never sat down and, to be honest sat down and read the play. But I saw David Tennant do it and I saw Ben Whishaw do it. So I knew the play, and it’s one of those parts that when you’re at drama school, I mean you get chances to do speeches, and you have these classes which was pick and speech and do them classes. And I think it’s one of those characters that people gravitate towards because you think when I am going to get the chance to do Hamlet, apart from in this workshop or whatever. So I had a look at some of the speeches then, but I’d never sat down and read the play really. That’s an honest…
PB: And what were your impressions of it now you have gone through it and started rehearsals as well?
NH: Yeah it’s an incredible play, it’s an incredible play. I think it’s got everything in it that you could put in a play I think really. And I think that’s a brilliant thing about this particular production, and the nature of the production, as in the tour, I think that it’s got everything in it. It’s got so much about family, it’s so much about conscience, it’s so much about love, and politics, and morality. It’s a very true story I think. As in, when I say true I mean it’s recognisable, it’s not a mythical, ethereal thing which people don’t… I think there are lots of people who have the problems or questions that Hamlet has. And the other characters.
PB: Everyone can relate to at least some part of it…
NH: Yeah I think so. I think that’s why, regardless of people, I sort of knew the quote ‘to be or not to be, that is the question’ before I’d read the play, before I knew of the play. And I think that’s the brilliant thing about it. That it is so iconic, because it holds something really special in it.
PB: And your character of Hamlet as well, what are your initial impressions of him?
NH: I think its really interesting because actually being in the rehearsal room has changed, massively changed my perceptions of him. Because it’s one of those parts I think that you think you know, you think you know Hamlet, because you think ah yeah, he’s probably really intense he’s really upset his father has been murdered by his uncle, and his mother’s married his – ah God it’s really awful. He’s very philosophical. But being in the rehearsal room has sort of opened up so many new things – how clever he is, how funny he is, how much wit he has. How sharp he is. And that’s the thing about those speeches like the ‘to be or not to be’. It’s because his mind, he has such a sharp mind that is so receptive to the world, that he questions things. And that’s something that I’d not really, that really, had not sunk in really for me before. It’s one of the perceptions I had, you know. That I didn’t really think about how many different shades there might be to this.
PB: I guess you only ever really see that one side…
NH: Yeah, and because I’d never sat down and read it, I had this sort of perception, rather than my own reaction to it. And I think that’s really nice about sitting down and really reading it and digging through the text like we’ve been doing. And you realise there are so many different things, there are so many different shades to the play and the characters in it. And especially Hamlet.
PB: You mentioned that you’d seen other versions of Hamlet before and read certain speeches, were there many other things you did to prepare for the role when you found out you had been cast?
NH: I read, I didn’t watch anybody do it when I knew I was doing it. The Ben Whishaw and David Tennant I’d watched when I was at drama school and before. So I didn’t watch anybody or listen to anybody doing it because it’s one of those things that I think you can get, for me anyway, that can petrify me. But I did a lot of work on the text really, just reading over the script, because it’s so dense, because there is so much in it. And his journey is such a unique journey, such an incredible journey, that really one of the main things I focused on before I started was really trying to get my head round that journey that he goes on. And it’s not that you sort of have to carry it with you the whole time, but it’s just in terms of realising what the scope of the play is, how far it, how big it is how wide it is. And I think that’s one of the things I did.
PB: Trying to hope that doesn’t become so overwhelming.
NH: Yeah, again because it’s another thing that you know about Hamlet, because you know that at the end there’s a big thing and there’s a, he gets his revenge. And in the middle, you know the speech with Yorick. You know things about it without, it is very strange, I mean because we sort of read it while I was at school. And you know things about it, but really for me it was about getting rid of some of that mystique actually so that you can just really dig into it, so that you don’t come into the rehearsal room really petrified about having to do ‘to be or not to be’. Because you know the context in which, and where it comes in the story, and where he is on in his journey at that point.
PB: I guess just having that speech as part of the character as a whole rather than…
NH: …yeah this thing yeah. And I think it’s because people know the speech, because it’s a beautiful incredible piece of writing that people know it. And that you have to, because it was one of the first things I thought about when I got it, I thought ‘god I’m going to have to do to be or not to be’. Which is incredible but also petrifying. And I saw all sorts of signs. There was a woman sat opposite me on the tube the morning after I’d accepted to do it, and she had a Waterstone’s bag and on the bag it said ‘to read or not to read’. And I thought god it is isn’t it, it’s just so iconic, and it’s everywhere.
PB: How is it, obviously being a two year tour you’re sharing a lot of the roles together, how is it working with someone else who is also playing Hamlet, are you sharing a lot of ideas or is it quite a more isolated process?
NH: No we talk quite a lot. Dominic [Dromgoole, Director and Artistic Director] actually very brilliantly said on the first day of rehearsal that if you see that somebody is doing something, steal it. Steal stuff from each other, because it will grow over the, because it has such a great amount of time in which to grow as a piece, that feel free to steal from each other. And because we’re all pretty much in the rehearsal room at the same time, it’s great to watch other people work, and you do you see so much, you see things click when you watch somebody else do something. You go oh of course, of course that’s it. Or you know yeah, that’s brilliant. That thought or that change or that little trigger, its all, it’s great to watch. And also it keeps it fresh for us because there’s a constant sort of rotation, you have to really think on your feet and be receptive to whatever is happening around you which is great. Which’ll be great fun for the tour as well because it keeps it fresh and fun and unpredictable. Which is what I think you want plays to be all the time.
PB: yeah you want it to have a bit of spontaneity…
NH: Yeah alive and nobody knows what’s going to happen, who knows what’ll happen.
PB: Apart from everyone does know what’s going to happen!
NH: Yeah I mean hopefully we’ll know the play by then! But that’s another brilliant thing is that by the end we’ll know the play upside-down, back to front, sideways. And that spontaneity will be so engrained into it I think, because the nature of the swapping around and seeing each other work.
PB: And a little bit about you as well, have you performed Shakespeare before?
NH: I have, I was really lucky because I did the Sam Wanamaker festival here last year, in my last year at drama school, in which I did a scene from Richard III. And it was incredible, an incredible experience, a brilliant weekend, having fun, doing workshops on the stage, and music, and the jig, and I just had so much fun. And then the most incredible magical 4 minutes on the stage in front of a packed house which is, honestly unlike anything else I’ve experienced before. It was just really magical. And before that I’d done a couple of things, at drama school I’d played Antigonus in The Winter’s Tale. I’d played King Lear for a Shakespeare’s schools tour in second year, and those were it really, for drama school.
PB: You have performed at the Globe before because you were in the Wanamaker festival, what was that like coming out on stage and…
NH: Incredible. There’s nothing really like it. I’d never felt anything like that anyway, because it’s so unlike any other theatre, because everybody’s energy is forward. The audience, they’re there. You can feel their energy, and it’s so much fun as an actor to be able to play so openly with them, because there is no pretence, there’s no pretending that they’re not there standing in front of you. And it’s amazing, it’s amazing, it’s the most alive experience I’ve had in a theatre to be honest.
PB: and it should be like that on the tour because it’s so close to the audience, and it’s so interactive.
NH: Yeah, I think that’s the beautiful thing about the theatre is that the audience, they’re so engrained in the performance and that it’s so much fun to play with that as an actor. Especially for this play as well, you know, those speeches, to be able to do that to those people is really going to be something special I think. Yeah because I think that’s, I’m just imagining what it must have been like when it was first performed or something, you know. And how brilliant those moments must have been, for an audience member to be fed some of ‘to be or not to be’ must be incredible. And it’s incredible that the space offers that, that that’s just a given in this theatre, which you know is something that I’m really really looking forward to.
PB: Fantastic, thank you so much.
NH: Thank you.