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Touring Hamlet gets a standing ovation at UN

05 August 2014, 08:29

United Nations — A production of William Shakespeare's "Hamlet" that hopes to visit every country in the world in two years landed at the United Nations on Monday, with the tale of the dithering Danish prince getting a boisterous, standing ovation from top diplomats.

The stripped-down Shakespeare's Globe theater production played inside a chamber in the U.N.'s New York headquarters for some 500 guests, against a backdrop of real-world crises in Gaza and the Ukraine.

"It's an absolute delight to be here. It's extraordinary. It feels very, very odd. But very pleasurably odd," said Dominic Dromgoole, the Shakespeare's Globe artistic director. "We like bold ideas. We like bold, simple — some would say stupid — ideas."

The tour's goal is to visit 205 nations and territories — the numbers are somewhat in flux as statehood demands rage — on seven continents. It landed in New York having already been seen in 28 countries and having accumulated 19,295 miles (31,053 kilometers) since it began this spring at its London home, a reconstructed Elizabethan playhouse beside the River Thames.

The show is spare: a few steamer trunks, cloth sheets, some wood beams and rope are all the scenery on hand, and the actors play multiple roles as well as instruments such as drums, violins and mandolins. But there's no denying the words and message from an exuberant cast. The audience included actress Kim Cattrall and performance artist Laurie Anderson in the front row.

The troupe, which already has performed in places as diverse as opera halls, market places and beaches, hopes to visit all the world's countries, including North Korea, Syria and Iraq. They also hope to perform in the West Bank, though no firm plans have been announced.

"Inclusivity is a much better policy than exclusivity," said Dromgoole. "If you do start excluding anyone, you do have to ask the question, 'Where do you start and where do you stop?'"

The show already has played Moscow and Ukraine's capital of Kiev, where now-President Petro Poroshenko was in attendance.

The production, which is not sponsored or subsidized by any group, now moves on to Central America and the Caribbean, stopping in the Bahamas on Wednesday.

The tour involves a portable set and a 12-person, multicultural cast that includes Hong Kong-born actress Jennifer Leong and Maori actor Rawiri Paratene. The production is directed by Dromgoole and Bill Buckhurst, who travel with four stage managers.

The title role alternates between London actor Naeem Hayat, a recent graduate of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, and Nigeria-born Ladi Emeruwa, who trained at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. Hayat played a thumbnail-biting prince at the U.N. with aplomb.

Emeruwa said he thought the performance at the U.N. would be like a microcosm of what the company will face in the next few years. "I think it'll mean different things to different people — different representatives — depending on what sort of situation they're in or what sort of situation their country is in as well."

The journey began in London on April 23 — the Bard's 450th birthday — and has already made stops from Amsterdam to Prague, Cyprus to the Ukraine. It concludes at its home theater on April 23, 2016 — the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death.

For all the good feeling at the United Nations, Paratene, who plays Polonius, Claudius or the Ghost, had no illusions about the power of art going up against long-held international beliefs.

"It would be foolish of us to go in thinking that we could get the diplomats to operate better," he said. "All we can do is tell the story, and if they glean from that something that makes the Israeli representative go to the other side of the room and sit next to the Palestinian representative and maybe kiss each other on the cheek and talk and listen, that would be very nice. But that's not what we're here to do. We're here to tell a story."

- AP


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