By William Shakespeare
The Opera House, Wellington | June 1-2
The travelling players of Globe to Globe: Hamlet rolled into Wellington for two nights at The Opera House on Monday and Tuesday. The play began with the cast of eight playing a merry tune on instruments which remained on stage for the entire performance, and the theme of a theatre company on the move is sustained throughout the play. And well it might be, for this band of actors has been on the road for over a year. They are roughly halfway to their goal of performing in every country in the world. The international cast, including New Zealander Rawiri Paratene, have learned to improvise on their journey. Each must play multiple characters—one performance they might be playing a large auditorium in a major city, the next they might be performing in a tent. And the set itself had an air of the latter location about it. Packing boxes were used as props and a canvas wall on wooden framing set the scene. The dark expanse of The Opera House stage looming above this modest foreground suggested a black and moonless night in a forest clearing, while the loud drumming of rain on the roof at times added to this impression.
The simple set and the multiple roles played by the small cast mean this Elsinore is a busy place, with characters coming and going, and scenes running into each other without pause. All this activity makes for a somewhat light-hearted version of Hamlet. And the audience certainly enjoyed being in on the joke. There was laughter throughout, in places one might not normally expect to find it—notably at the deaths of Polonius and Ophelia. A few fugitive chuckles even preceded Hamlet’s famous final utterance “the rest is silence.” The emphasis here is firmly on the life and colour of a travelling show, and not on the brooding subject matter.
Ladi Emeruwa, at first, seems a surprisingly chipper Hamlet—his first soliloquy light on searching disquiet, although the appearance of a stern and unsettling Paratene as his father’s ghost soon serves to awaken some of Hamlet’s emotion. Emurewa delivers the soliloquies clearly and calmly from centre stage, allowing the audience to digest their matter much as Hamlet appears to do—his emphasis firmly on method rather than madness. John Dougall as Polonius was an audience favourite, extracting every ounce of comic self-importance from the character. It was an engaging rendition, even if some of the more memorable lines were muted by the comic portrayal, such as Polonius’s famous advice to Laertes.
The production successfully conveyed the sense of a band of players on the move, even if the choice pushed this performance of Hamlet to the lighter end of the spectrum. It was thoroughly entertaining and captured the essence of a performance at the Globe—the sense that the audience is participating in the production too (the houselights were left on deliberately). In choosing to present Hamlet in this way, the company brought something of the magic of the Globe to Wellington—the feeling that there is still plenty of life in the words of the play, even 400 years after they were first spoken at the original Globe. This globetrotting troupe has packed up again and moved to Auckland for three performances, the last being June 5. They are well-worth catching before they fold up their tent for the next leg of their journey.