In early September, I prepared myself for the grand finale of this year’s Literary Festival program of plays: London’s Globe Theatre Troupe was bringing Hamlet, Prince of Denmark to Dominica on their world tour to celebrate 450 years since Shakespeare’s birth! The Nature Island was actually the 44th country on their route, which would take the cast, crew and producers to more than 200
countries over a two-year period. They had been to Canada in early August, and had performed two shows in one day at Prescott, Ontario, a small town about one and a half hours east of Kingston, my home town. I read that tickets sold out in less than an hour! For a country the size of Canada, very few people had the unique privilege of attending this special production. And to think that this proud Canadian was able to secure one ticket to a sold-out show for 600 people in Dominica! Therefore, I was very motivated to do my homework by reviewing the entire play, researching its background, and studying important themes, monologues and other literary devices so that I could better appreciate this incredible once-in-a-lifetime experience.
The venue, the Arawak House of Culture is the only big indoor theatre in Roseau . Unfortunately, it is a difficult space for me (to sing on-stage or to sit in the house) because of my
environmental health challenges and allergies. Therefore, I had to take good care of myself before attending the play, knowing that I would not feel well for a few days afterwards. I have no regrets. I consider that auspicious evening to be one of the highlights of my life in Dominica. There were some other pleasant surprises that night, as well as the superb performance of Hamlet that I can never forget.
I did arrive early to claim a ‘rush’ seat, and I am glad I did so, because about 600 other patrons soon filled the first floor and upper level balcony of the theatre. I was thrilled to see two of my former senior students in English Literature in attendance. In their class at Orion Academy, we had studied Macbeth and I believe we all had a lot of fun going through it. I certainly enjoyed it, and I would like to think that based on the high
scores in their regional exams, they must have gotten a thing or two out of it!
Before the play began, I tried to determine if picture-taking was permitted. It seemed as if it was not allowed, so I have no shots of the actors in action. However, it was mentioned by a member of the troupe at the start of the show that they requested “no flash.” Nevertheless, I did not take chances, and as such, have few photos for this momentous occasion. But you can see some good ones on the Nature Island Literary Festival Face Book Page, by clicking here.
Just minutes before the show began, I examined the set with interest. It was very simple in design, which is understandable, as the troupe would be “on the road” for the better part of two years! I was curious to see what they would do with scant props on the modest stage, and it didn’t take long to find out! A cast of 12 covered about 20 roles in total. The four crew members easily moved around the set to rearrange, take away or add props that were relevant to each scene in the five-act play. They even dressed the part and fit right in for crowd scenes and lovely lighthearted Elizabethan period songs and dances. Some of the actors played instruments as well that added a gaiety to the atmosphere of what is generally considered an extremely sombre “tragedy.”.As well, some of the house lights stayed on, providing a more realistic feel for the audience about the era in which the play was originally performed (daylight, usually – no electricity in the early 1600’s!).
It took me the first scene to get into the rhythm of the speech patterns of the play: plentiful ‘blank verse‘, smatterings of rhyming couplets, and occasional prose in cultivated, well-articulated British accents required a few moments of adjustment for my ears.
Hamlet is indeed a very dark play in the most macabre ways, replete with a ghost, murders, incest, betrayal, desertion, deception, trickery, suicide, indecision, revenge, depression, madness (real and feigned) and anger figuring prominently throughout (until the end of the very final scene in Act 5) . However, the directors, with their brilliant cast truly succeeded in making the very tragic themes and actions far from morose. The quick pace of the play, the lighter interludes during the scene changes with music and song and the deft movements of the actors back and forth across the downstage areas (including a mesmerizing sword duel to the death!) aided in holding the audience’s rapt attention for about 2 hours and 40 minutes, with one 15 minute intermission. While all the actors were absolutely sensational, the character of Hamlet, performed by Naeem Hayat was extraordinarily outstanding in his flawless delivery of lines and ceaseless energetic movements that at times made me think I was an onlooker in the court of King Claudius ( his uncle) and Queen Gertrude (his mother)! This Globe to Globe production was entirely believable, entertaining and skilfully executed in the manner in which Shakespeare’s thoughtfully crafted creation was delivered to the “observers.”
But there were some other memorable moments offstage, that also added to my unforgettable experience of that glorious night at the theatre. Apart from seeing former students in the house, I was astonished when the lady seated beside me mentioned that the works of Shakespeare rest beside the Bible on her nightstand, for frequent reference. After a moment, I realized that it made sense to ponder “the Bard’s” writings often. I had continually reminded students during my days of teaching about Shakespeare at Orion Academy that his themes are universal and timeless. They apply to any era, any place, any person, anywhere!
Hamlet is filled with famous phrases and idioms that have slipped into the everyday English language. Often, when we say them, we don’t even think of their origin. However, I was quite surprised when, in West Indian style, members of the audience either chuckled or recited aloud whatever well-known saying was being expressed on stage. Examples include:
To be, or not to be: that is the question”. – (Act III, Scene I); “Neither a borrower nor a lender be”. – (Act I, Scene III); “This above all: to thine own self be true”. – (Act I, Scene III); “Though this be madness, yet there is method in ‘t.”. – (Act II, Scene II); “The lady doth protest too much, methinks”. – (Act III, Scene II ); “In my mind’s eye”. – (Act I, Scene II); and several others. In fact, the theme of this year’s Literary Festival: “The play ‘s the thing…”. – (Act II, Scene II), has a more dire meaning, if you read the line in context of what proceeds and follows it. You can find more well-known expressions from Hamlet right here. I was also amazed at the number of theatre-goers who recited parts of Hamlet’s famous soliloquy,”‘To be or not to be” along with the actor. While I was duly impressed with this group recitation, I don’t believe it affected the words and actions of Hamlet on-stage! I am convinced that Mr. Hayat “became” Hamlet, because of his dlp (dead-letter-perfect) line delivery and precisely timed actions!
I did wonder if there were audience members who were possibly confused when one actor assumed another role, with only slight changes to the costume. For example, Rawiri Paratene, who played King Claudius, as well as the ghost of King Hamlet might have befuddled a few – for a short while only, I hope. For me, the flexibility of the cast in switching parts is worthy of the highest admiration for their theatrical skills. However, I was concerned about a young man seated in front of me who was a recent high school graduate. He was unfamiliar with the play and I did sense his confusion. I asked him at the interval how it was going for him. He admitted that it was a bit challenging, after which I urged him to read the play as soon as possible! I think he was in awe of the spectacle of such a superb production though, as was everyone else. A prolonged standing ovation at the end of it confirmed the audience’s collective appreciation of this unforgettable presentation!
It was wonderful to observe the multiracial cast of The Globe Theatre’s Touring Company of London putting on this phenomenal performance of Hamlet in Dominica. And to think they would do it many times over in other parts of the planet as they proceed with their world tour! Dramatic works such as those of Shakespeare do contain timeless universal themes and messages for all to enjoy, read, perform, ponder and/or discuss, regardless of background, culture, age or experience. This is also evident in the Caribbean films and plays that I attended during the Literary Festival’s August offerings. You can read that report here.
This year, the Nature Island Literary Festival definitely affirmed that “the play’s the thing.” Thanks again to Dr. Alwin Bully and the entire Committee for making an extraordinary late-summer night’s dream come true!