"We fought with pool cues, and Yorick's skull was a rock. It was totally make-believe. And there's a sense of beauty in that as well I think, there's a sense of childishness in it, a kind of play, which is warming to see in a professional setting."
In his fifth interview, Naeem talks about performing without set, props or costume in Micronesia, about big reactions to little moments, and two key revelations of Hamlet's character.
Time: 13 minutes 36 seconds
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Transcript of Podcast
David Ralf: Welcome back to the Adopt An Actor podcast. This is the fifth interview with Naeem Hayat, one of the Hamlets from the Globe to Globe World Tour. You're back from your sixth leg. You described Hamlet as very sharp-minded. Has his sharp mind dulled from an awful lot of travel?
Naeem Hayat: No he's still there! He's still there just about. The travel is exhausting, often, but it's equally exciting and equally inspiring as it is tiring. So he's still there, just about.
DR: In Kiribati and Micronesia you had a particular challenge, because your set and costume and props were caught in transit. So did that shake things up for you?
NH: It did, it changed the entire aesthetic of the show, really. And it changed the way we played because we, for the first time in Kiribati for example we had nothing. So we played entirely in our own clothes. Which is different to, say, not having one prop, or one piece of costume. It was suddenly entirely make it up as you go along. That show I wore pretty much what I'm wearing now, which is one a testament to how small our wardrobes had become, and two, there was just a genuine playfulness and ease with which we had to approach those shows, because we have nothing really. We fought with pool cues, and Yorick's skull was a rock. It was totally make-believe. And there's a sense of beauty in that as well I think, there's a sense of childishness in it, a kind of play, which is warming. It's a sort of similar thing to kids just believing that a stick is a sword. And there's some kind of childishness to it which is warming to see in a professional setting.
DR: Obviously you hadn't played to that audience before, but did you find that audience responded to that aesthetic?
NH: I think so. I think so. They seemed to believe it, after the first - I always feel for the first couple of scenes, you know, the scene with Marcellus and Barnado, where they - "Who's there?" that first scene - and the guys had their pool cues as their swords in their belts, and you think once they buy into the convention, we're flying. But it just takes a few moments of "Hold on a minute, that's not a sword that's a stick" You know, those moments where once you set it up, hopefully then you believe that with enough passion and energy and spirit, you can carry the story. And it does two things really, one is that it makes you realise just how powerful the story is, because it is an incredibly human, incredibly relatable, very moving, powerful story. It reminds you of how simple it can be, and the other is it just reminds you how liberating it can be, actually, to suddenly have nothing and to have to think on your feet. I think a lot of actors spend a long time searching for that sense of play and liberation in any given run of a show. And suddenly we found ourselves with that - we were forced to have that sort of improvisational, make it up as you go along attitude, because we had nothing, because we had no other option. And there's a sense of fun in that. And audience memebers did say after the show that after the first three minutes or so, they totally just believed that the sticks were swords and that a rock could be Yorick. So we did have bery positive very generous, very warming responses after those shows.
DR: And so when you do have everything in its right place, and everything works out okay, what moments do you find really change the most, country to country?
NH: I think it's always different, and it's mainly always to do with the audience - the audience feeds so much of the energy of the show, because it's so dependant on who makes up that audience, and how they respond to things. For me it's always the play-within-a-play. The dumbshow is a very telling point at which you can try to get an insight into the audience. Because sometimes it's raucous, and sometimes it's very quiet. And it can also be anywhere in between that. And that's always a very interesting way of seeing how an audience might respond to the humour - the inherent humour that's in this show. So for me that's always one moment. And the other is the final killing of Claudius. In Sudan there was a very vocal, very loud response. At that final moment of revenge. Whereas in other places it's been very very quiet. And like I say it can be any of those things, and none of them are less valid that any of the others. And I think that that's the wonderful thing about this show, that we, unlike many other companies, get to perform to a whole range of different people, different cultures, for whom the same moment - the Taiwanese see exactly the same moment as the Uzbekistanis will or the Kazakhstanis have. And its always very interesting to see what that means to those people. For example we did a Q&A in Taiwan where the woman who was chairing said, "Last night I laughed at the moment when Yorick's skull was revealed." And there was a moment when we were in Rwanda, when for me that felt like a totally different thing. The revealing of Yorick's skull felt palpably different in Rwanda than it did in Taiwan. And maybe that's your own projection, maybe that's your own apparent intelligence about the world, but for me there was a massive difference in that. And then she said, she suddenly said "Oh, I feel terrible for laughing at that moment, because last night I laughed when Yorick's skull was revealed," and in Rwanda that's not a funny, there's no humour in a human skull, in terms of the history of Rwanda. And I just thought in that moment and remember saying, "But that's the beauty of it: what in Rwanda was a very serious sombre moment, a potential starkness, last night was a very joyous, indifferent moment. And that's totally to do with the uniqueness of the audience. We are in a very privileged position, to be able to experience all those different reactions, to exactly the same story.
DR: Over the last leg, are there any particular relationships which have struck you anew or again?
NH: There's always new things, and they're always developing, and changing and shifting and morphing into one thing or another. On the last leg I think - I always internally find Hamlet's relationship with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern fascinating. Because there were a couple of shows in the last leg where when Hamlet reveals the plot that he's just come up with to have Rosencrantz and Guildenstern executed, there were a couple of audible gasps, and audible reactions to that, and I suppose those moments do always shock you into realising what it is that he's done. Because we see their whole journey, in a way. We see them arrive as two fun-seeking friends from university, and then we see how that deteriorates. And I think it's a really tragic friendship they have actually, because they want to do good. They want to do good by him, but they also find themselves in this very sticky situation with the king, and I think that I always find that first scene with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern eternally fascinating, and always wonder how much he knows about them, how much does he suspect them before they arrive, how much of that does he carry, how much of it does he let go - it's an eternally fascinating relationship for me. I mean, as are all the others. I mean there have been a few times on this last leg for me where you suddenly realise how sorry and how shocking it is that he kills Polonius. There's always a moment when there's the reveal of Polonius' dead body, there's always a moment of - I don't know quite how to describe it, but there's always a moment of regret - you can't ignore what it is that he says and how quickly he moves on in the text, to just totally ignoring the fact that he's done that - and that I find a fascinating conflict as well, acknowledging what he's just done, but also being so obsessed and so passionate about his mother and his relationship to his mother, and the idea of the king and his mother together, scratching away at him. I always find that a very interesting thing as well.
DR: It's very revealing of how far he's gone.
NH: How far he’s gone. Exactly. How can you so easily disregard what it is that's a very physical presence, which is a dead body, in front of you. And like you say, I think it is very telling of his state in that moment.
DR: You talked about Dominic early on, very early on in rehearsals, suggested, "Steal everything from each other." You're one of two Hamlets - do you still enjoy watching the show? And do you still find that you're 'stealing stuff'?
NH: I do. Both, yes. I find it very fascinating to watch the show, I find it very interesting in terms of watching the audience watch the show, and I also find it very interesting to see how the show has developed. Because being in it you have no real concept of how it might have changed, or grown - you can't see the show from inside it. I'm in a very privileged position where I get the chance to do that. And it's always very fascinating to see how it has grown. And it has, I think first of all it's a much slicker sharper show that it was when we left, and it's much more nuanced I think, there are many more subtleties to the relationships, and to the way that each person interacts or responds to the audience now than when we left. I still do find myself hearing things for the first time or having moments of "Oh yes, of course, maybe it's that, maybe that's what I'm missing" or "How come I didn't think about that?" or "Oh no, I've had totally the wrong idea about that scene" and that's a very interesting position to be in. Because you're constantly doubting the choices you've made, which is great because it means you constantly explore. But there is an interesting balance between keeping an integrity to what you've created and also wanting to keep exploring. And I think that's a very subtle thing which you're constantly negotiating. How much you play, and how much you allow yourself just to explore what it is that you first thought was interesting about the scene or the character or the relationships. And how much you want to put all of that aside and start afresh again. That's a constant debate you have with yourself. Because often we do one show in a country. And that's an interesting debate between how much you explore at the expense of potentially slightly disfiguring a moment which might have worked before, and being very aware that it's the first and last time that this audience will see this show. And being very conscious of the fact that no matter how tired you might be from travelling, your job is to do one hundred million percent the best show you can do. If we don't do that then we're slightly failing in some respect. And that might sound a bit harsh and forceful but you do. That's what drives you, the desire to the best show you possibly can do every time, irrelevant of how jet-lagged you might be or how fed up of waking up at 4am you might be. Those are all non-important things when it comes to presenting the show. Because that's what we're there to do.
DR: You're not giving the same show but you're giving the best show, each time.
NH: Exactly, and that's the beauty of it, it's not a template, there's not one show. It's unique in every place it is because of many different things. Because of the audience, because of the rotation of the cast, etc etc. But what it always should be, and what we always strive for it to be is the best show.
DR: Thank you very much!
NH: Thank you!