Hamlet is always seen as a big theatrical event. While the recent Benedict Cumberbatch Hamlet may have gained much media attention, audiences attending Shakespeare Peckham’s production of Shakespeare’s classic tale will certainly get their monies worth, with not one, but three Hamlets on stage.
Ahead of press night, Glen Pearce spoke to the three Hamlets;Sharon Singh, Max Calandrew and Izabella Urbanowicz about their roles.
Hamlet is considered by many to be the pinnacle of Shakespearian performance. How have you approached the role?
SS: My process is first and foremost todissectthe text. I think it’s crucial to understand exactly what you are saying andhow you can be truthful in that.
MC: For me, Hamlet represents that part in us all that strives to be better and braver than we believe we can be when life presses down on us. For me, it’s a story about a man trying to do what is right, to do what is just and moral, to fight injustice and prove his doubters and himself wrong.
IU: There are many clues throughout the play that can give you inspiration – things that other characters say about Hamlet, the metaphors Hamlet uses to describe how he/she feels. From a psychological point of view Hamlet is an outsider in his/her own world, and finds it increasingly difficult to trust in the people around her. In my head I am Hamlet throughout but‘wake up’or‘come to life’when I take over.
This production is unique in having three Hamlets – how have you divided the piece?
SS: The piece has been divided into three clear sections that depict the different stages of Hamlet’s journey through the play.Hamlet who thinks there is a problem. Hamlet who knows there is a problem. Hamlet who does something about the problem.
What is it like working as a trio – do you all have to get on really well?
MC: Working alongside two other actors who are also taking on the same role as you has been amazing. You get to see and discover two fantastic performers dissect and unravel the same role that you are creating at the same time. Watching Sharon’s and Izabella’s work was a huge part of my discovery for my section of the character – because we are all trying to capture the soul of one person.
IU: We don’t actually work that much together as Hamlets as we all play other characters when we are not Hamlet but we’ve all been watching and supporting each other on our separate journeys
Do you ever hear one of the other Hamlet’s say a line and wish you’d had that line?
SS: I don’t actually, but whenever I hear Max say’To be or not to be…’ I feel very proud to be sharing the role with two other wonderful actors.
MC: The problem is, is that the words Shakespeare put down to be said in his scriptsare so delicious and so wonderful to say that it’s hard to pick a particular line…how about…’O, that this too too solidflesh would melt thaw and resolve itself into a dew!’ Such beautiful imagery.
IU: Of course there are bits of the text that you are drawn to more than others but from my perspective Sharon and Max do such beautiful work in their sections that although I may not say some of the earlier text, I feel it.
The casting call for this role didn’t specify any detail apart from ‘Professional actor aged over 18’ – should more productions feature that open a casting method?
SS: If they can, absolutely. I think that it’s easier with classical roles as the interpretations are so vastbutI think it can only be a good thing to see a wider range of actors who might surprise you orbring something totally uniqueto a part. It keeps theatre innovative and inspiring.
IU: Casting in our industry is a rightly controversial and hot topic. Productions that provide a level playing field for actors to explore roles that are traditionally closed to them is hugely positive. I do believe that more productions should reflect the world we live in, and the world we aspire to create. I am a great supporter of the Act For Change Project. They put it much more eloquently than me “The arts are for EVERYONE, regardless of race, gender, class, sexual orientation, age or disability, and they should reflect the societies we live in.”
Benedict Cumberbatch’s recent Hamlet demonstrated that people are very protective of any changes to the text or structure – should we be that protective of the work?
SS: I think in order to keep theatre exciting and relevant todaywe have to push boundaries. I think we should respect the writers’ message of course, and if that stays at the root of the work then I think there isroom for creativity.
MC: I think as long as you treat the material with respect and make sure the story is told fully – cuts are a very important part of putting a Shakespeare production on.
IU: Yes, we should be protective of the work great writers like Shakespeare have given us but on the flip side we don’t live in the 1600s anymore and if we only ever saw Shakespeare produced as it was then, then perhaps we would alienate ourselves from the connection of our past to our future. There is great beauty and skill in traditional productions of Shakespeare and they have a very prominent place in our theatres already but when those traditional productions neglect our diverse society I wonder what exactly it is that we are protecting?
Are there any other Shakespearian roles you think would benefit from having a trio of actors portray the role?
SS: There are probably lots but I think I’d love to see Kate in Taming of the Shrew and Macbeth played bya trio.
MC: I’d love to see Othello portrayed as a trio – his journey is just as distinct as Hamlets.
IU: I’m not sure about the trio option but there is always scope for diversity and casting outside of traditional gender which can open up different elements of characters portrayals. The National have cast Tamsin Grieg as Malvolio inTwelfthNight and have recently announced that they have committed to closing the gender gap by 2021 in terms of woman directors and playwrights.
This year marks the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. What still makes him relevant to audiences today?
SS:His understanding of how to portray human nature. I don’t think anyone comes close to reflecting humanity in the way he does. And asmuch as politics, society and evenlanguage willchange, I believehis work will always stand the test of time.
MC: He was like an emotional X-ray machine to the human heart. Not only could he observe the fragile human state so acutely, he also wrote it down in the most beautiful and elegant words.
IU: His plays are about human relationships. This will always be relevant to us. Apart from all that they are bloody good stories.
Newcomers to Shakespeare often feel intimidated by it – why should they see this production?
SS:We have created a very clear, comic and empowered production of Hamlet which isn’t like the usual versions. We’ve made it very accessible by sticking to the language that is the most useful. I think for someone that is unfamiliar with Shakespeare this would be a great place to start.
MC: Often simply saying the word Shakespeare can put people off because they see it as inaccessible or ‘posh’ or ‘boring’. The key thing to know about Shakespeare is that it’s about human emotion. It’s about the big challenges and questions that we find ourselves facing every single day of our lives. It’s about you. It’s about all of us.
IU: There’s not much to be intimidated by in this production. It’s fast, to the point and very human. We’ve all got problems and things we need to face in our lives – this production is an opportunity to watch some great characters find ways to face and conquer theirs. We talk to the audience directly and ask them to engage with us, it’s not a formal presentation of our work but a journey we ask you to go on with us. It’s extremely accessible, fun and engaging in a way that reminds us that Shakespeare wrote these stories to be performed and enjoyed.
What would be your dream Shakespeare role?
SS: Last year I was asked the same question and Isaid Hamlet! Now,I think I’d love to take on the role of Rosalind in As You Like It.
MC: Marlon Brando is my role model as far as acting goes and he played Mark Anthony. I’d like to have a crack at that one day.
IU: In terms of strong female archetypal roles which I’ve grown up wanting to play – Lady Macbeth, Katherine in Taming of the Shrew, Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing. I’ve always fancied Puck. But then, why do I limit myself? If I can play Hamlet then surely I can play Prince Hal in the Henry’s!
Shakespeare Peckham’s Hamlet Peckham runs at the Bussey Building, Peckham until 27 February
For more information visit www.hamletpeckham.com