"After the show, one person came up to me and said, 'Tonight you have shown us a collection of dead bodies on the stage. We know what that looks like in real life in Kosovo. Thank you for reminding us of that, because it's something we never want to see again'. And those conversations, you never can prepare yourself for because you really have no idea, it's sort of the magic, the beauty and the tragedy in a way of theatre: it's ethereal."
Returning after the two year tour, Naeem looks back on some memorable moments from performances, including those in Calais, Elsinore and Kosovo.
Time: 10 minutes 5 seconds
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Transcript of Podcast
Rona Kelly: Welcome to the last, the very last in our series of podcasts for the Hamlet Globe to Globe with Naeem.
Naeem Hayat: Hello.
RK: How are you today?
NH: I'm good, I'm a little shell-shocked, a little confused as to where I am! But apart from that good.
RK: It's no wonder that you're somewhat shell-shocked, because I believe last night you were at Elsinore.
NH: Yes...yesterday, well the night before last in Elsinore doing Hamlet in Hamlet's house.
RK: What was that like?
NH: Scary! There's a room in Elsinore castle that has all of the portraits, photos of previous Hamlets including Richard Burton, Laurence Olivier, Jude Law amongst others. And that's always a very ominous thing to walk through, because you realise there's a whole long history of people who have gone before you. And then there's measly old you trying your best to do it justice. It was really, very special. And to be honest, it feels like the only place we could have finished the foreign part of the tour. It seemed the aptest place to finish.
RK: Hallowed ground, essentially.
NH: Absolutely, beautiful. And also just a beautiful building overlooking the sea and it's just very atmospheric, it's a very atmospheric place. And you can see why it strikes up such a vivid imagining of where Hamlet might have lived. It's a very ominous but also very charming building.
RK: And today and tomorrow, these are your final few performances, back where it all started at the Globe itself. Are you looking forward to getting back on the stage?
NH: Very excited, very excited to be back. I mean Ladi [Emeruwa] and I were having a chat earlier on and we were saying how we can't really remember being here. People keep asking, 'How do you think the shows will compare to the ones you did when you left?' And to be honest, I just can't really picture myself here. It seems like such an eternity ago, in truth it was, two years ago. I mean we're very excited to get back, it's such a special place this theatre. And so we're all collectively very, very excited to be back.
RK: And you performed in all sorts of countries, venues, places. I think one of your most noteworthy ones recently was the Jungle in Calais. How was that experience, as an actor and as a human being?
NH: That's a very good question. It's quite a difficult one to answer. It was very moving, very sobering. It's a tough place to live. I mean we were only there for a few hours and it was bitter, bitter cold and we performed outside. There's a couple of things really, one is that you feel the harsh reality of what it must be like to live in those conditions and there are tiny children who turned out to come and see the show. It sort of warms you as a human being but it also is equally balanced with a real, strong sense of injustice and unfairness and inequality, because frankly we in three hours’ time will pack all of our things away, get into a warm van and leave. There is an inequality in that, which is difficult to get your head around. But in terms of the show, it was great, they were very receptive. I mean it was very, very cold and they stayed and they watched it and they cheered and they laughed and they heckled and it was brilliant. It was a difficult show but it was a very rewarding show. And I suppose the other thing to say is to give a nod to all of the volunteers and the two Joe's who run the Good Chance Theatre who supported us, whom without we simply wouldn't have been able to perform there. Unfortunately now I think that theatre doesn't exist anymore. Since us going there, there have been all sorts of troubling advancements. And those are two of the most effervescent guys you will ever meet. They are so passionate about theatre and storytelling and music and creating a space in which people can be free to express themselves, regardless of what form or shape that takes, be it painting, to music, to poetry, anything.
And then the other thing is to say about the volunteers who for the most part (the ones I met anyway) for the most part were British volunteers, who had taken it upon themselves to travel to Calais to travel to the jungle and feed thousands of people every day. Getting up at god forsaken hours in the morning, handing out clothes and food [and] water, setting up temporary shelters and caravans. It's really humbling and very moving to see that all in action really. We've had so many varied experiences on this tour, from being spoilt to seeing the harsh reality of everyday life in some unstable and deprived places. But when you see a group of people clubbing together like that it's a really moving thing actually in terms of seeing how powerful the human spirit can be when it's used fully. Sorry! That was very long-winded!
RK: No, that wasn't a long-winded answer at all. It was very 'in depth', that's what we like to call it! And you mention that you've done the play before international audiences of all ages. How have you found Shakespeare has translated across not only those countries but across generations?
NH: It's always incredibly surprising really. People will take from the play and the story whatever they want. And what's fascinating about this tour and the audiences we've encountered is that it's been across so many different cultures and age ranges, from fervent, young English Literature students to dab old hands in the theatre in Eastern Europe. We've had such a wide variety of audiences. I think what's been so surprising is how much people across the world have claimed Shakespeare for themselves, which is brilliant. Because it's not about doing it a certain way or interpreting it a certain way, it's just that they make connections with the story and Hamlet as a man through their own culture or through their own society. And that's been really wonderful to see and to see people really passionate about that, saying, 'No it's like this because of 'x', 'y', 'z'! And actually I didn't agree with this tiny bit in the production, because I think it should be like this. And Hamlet's like this and Polonius is like this'. I suppose for me it was very surprising, because maybe I can safely say I was ignorant about how far actually the story has travelled and how passionately people have taken it to their hearts. And that's been a really fascinating part of this tour is talking to people about what Hamlet means to them. And that's really fascinating that it can mean so many different things to so many different people across such a wide distance really.
RK: Can you think of one example maybe recently of maybe an audience member you talked to which had certain reaction which has stuck with you?
NH: I've had some very sobering ones, actually. I had a very sobering conversation in Kosovo with a man who was sat right at the back of the theatre. And when Hamlet asks the audience, 'Am I a coward?' he shouted right from the back of the audience, 'Yes'. And then I remember I ended up doing the rest of the speech directed towards him. And after the show he came up to me and he said, 'Sorry, I was the one who shouted out 'Yes', and I just want to say that tonight you have shown us a collection of dead bodies on the stage and a collection of dead bodies, we know what that looks like in real life in Kosovo. And that is something we never, ever, ever want to see again as a people. So thank you for reminding us of that, because it's something we never want to see again'. And those conversations, you never can prepare yourself [for], because you really have no idea, it's sort of the magic, the beauty and the tragedy in a way of theatre is that it's ethereal. It exists only for a single, solitary moment: one group of people, one room whatever that room may be, one collective space if you like, and then it disappears. And the only thing that exists is people's memories of it. And so as an actor, it's really difficult to try to compute what that may mean to any given audience member. You simply can't really do it. You just try to tell the story with as much energy and passion and truth as you can and then allow the audience to take away from that what they will and some of what they've taken away (from at least what I've heard about on this tour) has been really sobering and inspiring in equal measure.