"Sometimes people come up to you at the end of the show and say, 'What was really interesting was that part about Fortinbras, because that's something that we're living with'. And I think it's an interesting thing, that we arrive in a place, we do the play and then we leave. What do we leave behind?"
In his sixth interview, Naeem discusses the cultural and communal impact of the show, Hamlet’s relationship with Fortinbras, and their performance in the Zaatari refugee camp.
Time: 10 minutes 20 seconds
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Transcript of Podcast
David Ralf: Naeem, you are back and just about to go out again on the Hamlet Globe to Globe tour.
Naeem Hayat: It feels very odd to be back, actually. It feels very nice. But you never quite get the chance to really settle down, because you know you have at the forefront of your brain the fact that we know we'll be on a plane to Angola tomorrow morning. So you sort of enjoy your time at home, but also know that in the back of your mind that you're about to set off again.
DR: What has been one of the memorable performances from the last leg?
NH: We've had many. I think the one that sticks out, for many reasons, is the performance in the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, which holds somewhere around 80,000 Syrian refugees which is just a staggering number of people when you think about it. If you have a look at bird's eye view photos of the camp, you just see how vast it is. Again, I may be wrong, but I think it's the third largest city in terms of population in Jordan, which I think is just staggering. That was a very unique and very special performance. It was a difficult performance, because just in terms of technical things, in terms of how much space we had and keeping the audience captivated. The acting things, the technical things that you want to keep sharp, those are quite difficult.
DR: Where did you perform in camp?
NH: We performed in a shack, but one of the more permanent fixtures within the camp. We had incredible support from both UNESCO and the IRD, who are both supporting the performance. And in the middle of the show there was a sandstorm, which is something not many people can say they've performed in the middle of. Which was quite scary because all of a sudden it got very dark, the only sort of light in the room was natural light from these barely visible windows. And once the storm was at its biggest, it all went pitch black inside and then lots of the audience got very scared, and thought that something's going on. Most of them decided to get up and make a swift exit, so we had to stop the show for about ten minutes so that the guys could settle everyone down and reassure them that everything's okay. So that was a very odd, very moving experience.
It's always very difficult to put everything into a concise format and then relay it, because we move so fast. And after that performance, there were many other performances which were equally memorable for different reasons, for totally different reasons. That's the one thing that always sticks with all of us, is that you you're constantly sort of chasing your own memories a bit, because they're there, so vivid when they're happening. But once you've moved on and moved on to a different place and then a different place and then a different place and then you find yourself home, it's a difficult thing to relay those images as vividly as you can. Because they all sort of start to blur slightly. Like I've said before, everyone's keeping a journal and things like that. So I'm always consciously aware of the fact that you never quite can give the thing its weight or the respect it really deserves as a memory, because it's slightly blurring with other things.
DR: Is there a sense of that carried through to the show as well, because obviously it's Hamlet and it's such a massive story? But you're doing it again and again and again and again in such various different places that do blur in your memory.
NH: Sometimes, yes. Sometimes you don't know where you are, which is a really odd experience, to wake up in a place and your first thought to be, 'Where am I?' That's not a thing that normally you experience on an everyday basis. So I think sometimes we do, it does take a conscious effort to concentrate on the show and it's more about keeping it alive and keeping it fresh more than anything else. Trying to really fight against the rhythms that you might find yourself falling into for any number of reasons: because you're tired, or because you're in an odd venue, or because you're outside in a park and it's pouring down with rain and there are little kids running around or whatever it is. You've always got to find a way to make it new, because you've always got to remember that, yes, we've been to 140 plus countries with the show, but for those people in the audience at that time it is the first time they're seeing the show. So you want to give them something which is new and fresh and exciting and hopefully memorable, because yes it may be just another show for us, but it's an experience for the audience.
DR: Last time you told us about a performance where you didn't have any props or costumes at all. Do you find that there are certain aspects of the design that really register with some places, and maybe are just dressing in others?
NH: I think the simplicity of it is always interesting for most people, because it is very simple. And you're essentially watching very simple storytelling, very simple make believe. And I think that there's something interesting in that, and I think there's something exciting for people to see one actor playing several different parts and the only thing that distinguishes those parts is a very simple piece of costume, say a hat or a jacket. And I think that that's a very exciting thing to see as an audience member. I think honestly though, on the other hand, there are some places we've been where maybe the audience have been expecting a more period piece, something more like the things you would get in-house here, the costume of a main stage show. And so there's also that debate: sometimes people think they're going to see Shakespeare's Globe which means wonderful, elaborate costumes.
DR: Big frocks!
NH: Big frocks and wonderful jackets and that's always a very interesting thing to talk to people about. One is because they get a sense of the theatre itself, the work that the theatre does, so that it's not just one company. That's another thing that we always come across every so often, that people often think that Shakespeare's Globe is one company of actors doing this thing and also do the shows here and also do the shows in the playhouse, that it's the same company. It's a really interesting moment when people realise that it's not so insular, it's quite a big thing. So that's a very interesting thing, it's a very interesting debate about people's ideas of this theatre and then the reality that confronts them.
DR: What are some of the things that have been standing out to you from the play just recently? Little corners that you find yourself noticing?
NH: I think one thing which rears its head very potently every so often is the Fortinbras line, the Fortinbras story, which is all essentially about regime change and going 'to gain a patch of ground/That hath in it no profit but the name'. And every so often we go to places where potentially that's happening, or that we're in a place which has a long history of doing that in other places. I know in the past I've sort of mentioned that when we were in Ukraine, but also recently being in Palestine and it's a very topical, very potent thing to discuss. But it felt like again those themes really came out: authority, power, how you use power, what's rightfully yours, land, all of that stuff that's in the play, Fortinbras marching to Norway and marching through lands which don't quite belong to him but that he needs to get permission [to cross]. All of that stuff about territory suddenly became very vivid, because it was very vivid for the audience who live through that every day. And it's not that you purposefully want to put a microscope under that, but you just take a step back and go 1) that's incredible writing, and 2) is to not get in the way of allowing people to discuss that, because sometimes people do. Sometimes people come up to you at the end of the show and they say, 'What was really interesting was that part about Fortinbras, because that's something that we're living with'. And it's just about being sensitive to that. And I think it's an interesting thing, that we arrive in a place, we do the play and then we leave. I always find it interesting: what do we leave behind? Some form of discussion, or debate, or acknowledgement of the country's own sense of culture or storytelling, and their relationship to Shakespeare and their relationship to Hamlet? There are always so many things which we'd like to talk about which we never really get the chance to talk about, because we move so fast. That was one of the things which was very potent in the last leg, was being in Palestine and having that strand of the play come out.
DR: When you've noticed that Fortinbras plot just rising in the consciousness of the space, what does that do to Hamlet?
NH: What's interesting is Hamlet's relationship to Fortinbras. They're essentially parallels: they are the sons of very prominent figures, the idea of handing that on, so they're kind of mirror images of each other. And what I find fascinating about Hamlet is his fascination with Fortinbras. He has that incredible speech about, 'What is a man,/If his chief good and market of his time/Be but to sleep and feed?' That thought is triggered by seeing Fortinbras lead an army to gain this tiny patch of land, and what I find really fascinating is how he negotiates that, because Fortinbras is a trigger for him to investigate himself. And he has a few realisations that he needs to get a move on with whatever it is that he need to do, in terms of getting his own sense of justice. It feels like Fortinbras is definitely a catalyst to that, because he's the one who spurs on that thought. And so then in terms of that in the space, you just want to use the audience to think through those things, because that's where he does most if his thinking is with the audience. The kind of idea that he sort of sits in the corner and does it all by himself isn't quite true. He does it with the audience, most of those major moments and major speeches of self-analysis are all done with the audience, to the audience. I know I've said it before, I think we're in an incredibly privileged position because not many companies will be able to say that they've played to so many varied audiences in so many varied venues and places, with tiny things popping out of the play which you maybe wouldn't quite get if you were doing the show in the same place in the same venue every day for 6 months.
DR: Thank you very much.
NH: Thank you