Author: Dominic Dromgoole
Genre: Non-fiction – Performing arts / drama / theatre biography
Publisher: Canongate Books
Publication date: 20 April 2017
Length: 400 pages
Available from: Amazon
In the middle of the sprawling Zaatari refugee camp, Dominic Dromgoole watches from the makeshift wings as Hamlet delivers one of his celebrated soliloquies. Four years earlier, Dromgoole, the Artistic Director of the Globe, had come up with a wildly ambitious idea . . . to mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death by taking his most famous play to every country on the planet.
Over two full years, Dromgoole and the Globe players toured all seven continents performing Hamlet in sweltering deserts, grand Baltic palaces and heaving marketplaces – despite food poisoning in Mexico, the threat of ambush in Somaliland, an Ebola epidemic in West Africa and political upheaval in Ukraine.
Hamlet: Globe to Globe tells the fascinating story of this unprecedented theatrical adventure in which Dromgoole shows us the world through the prism of Shakespeare’s universal drama. We see what the Danish prince means to the students of Cambodia, the effect of Polonius on the citizens of the tiny African nation of Djibouti and how a sixteenth-century play can touch the lives of Syrian refugees. Shakespeare’s timeless power to transcend borders, to touch the human heart, and to bring the world closer together, has rarely been demonstrated in such a bold and brilliant way.
Confession: I did not come to this book as someone with a very detailed knowledge of the theatre world, or even of Hamlet. I did, however, come to it as someone with a great deal of respect for the ‘Hamlet: Globe to Globe’ tour, and a passion for Shakespeare that was ignited in my school days (despite dreary teaching of the Bard’s works) and has only grown through the years.
What’s great about this book is that the author makes no assumption about his reader. You can be, like me, an outsider and not get lost at all. The author’s enthusiasm for his subject is infectious, and his style of writing is such that you feel you are in conversation with him – in a London pub over a drink, relaxed and chatty. I learned so much as I read, and I loved how the author opened up new perspectives for me (for example, ‘if you are not looking directly at someone, it is acting; if you are, it can feel like lying’).
I enjoyed the descriptions of the players’ experiences in London and abroad, felt a surge of national pride (as the author puts it, this tour ‘is the UK at its best’), and was heartened by how the endeavour really did transcend borders. I found myself thinking as I read, ‘There’s something in this – a way forward. How else could art work in this way? And why is it I haven’t seen Hamlet performed since my school days?!’
I wish I had seen this touring Hamlet, but as it is I will be satisfied with dusting off my old Complete Works and re-reading the play. Because above all else, this book is a celebration of Hamlet: ‘beautiful, a necessity… rampacked with iconic moments which translate across cultures’.
Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.