Pictured: Ladi Emeruwa plays Hamlet at the Kyiv production of Shakespeare’s Globe world tour. Photo: British Council
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Why do Ukrainians identify with issues in Hamlet? The Shakespeare’s Globe theatre company performed the play in Kyiv, despite the recent turmoil in the country. Martin Dowle, the British Council’s country director in Ukraine, recounts.
Like in Hamlet’s ‘play within a play’, the Globe actors performed in front of the country’s leaders
On the eve of the presidential election in Ukraine, while battles raged in the east of the country, more than a thousand people packed into Kyiv’s Mystetskyi Arsenal – a massive disused munitions factory turned arts centre, built in 1812 – to see two emotionally charged performances of Hamlet.
The Ukrainian audience included two winning candidates — the incoming president, Petro Poroshenko, and the new mayor of Kyiv, Vitaliy Klitschko. They were watching theGlobe’s actors perform on the eleventh stop of a two-year tour to every country in the world. The cast had already travelled by sea to Amsterdam, performed in the Arctic Circle in Norway, at Wittenberg in Germany (where Hamlet studied philosophy), and in Moscow, the Baltic republics and Minsk.
Ukraine’s precarious politics have echoes of Hamlet’s Denmark
‘Hamlet states that the “time is out of joint”,’ says Dominic Drumgoole, who is artistic director of the Globe. ‘So it is an eloquent play for any country where people feel the time does not meet the aspirations of the people. Our belief is Hamlet is a play that — wherever you take it — has a benevolent effect on the atmosphere around it.’
Ukrainians are no strangers to Shakespeare’s plays. They are studied in secondary school, and regularly performed in the country’s well-attended theatres. What was novel about this production was the physical closeness of the Globe’s actors to their audience, who performed in the round, just as in Elizabethan times.
To the delight of the audience, Horatio ventured a mock fist fight right in front of the new mayor Vitaliy Klitschko, who is a former professional boxer. The sword scene in the final act was so realistic that the president’s security detail took the danger for real, and agitatedly alerted fellow agents through his mouthpiece.
The 12 members of the cast visited the Maidan, the central square which was the scene of February’s revolution. On their day off, they were treated as celebrities around town and asked to pose for photos by curious citizens. As one actor said, ‘Kyiv has been an eye-opener.’
Ukrainians still have the chance to see Shakespeare performances by the Globe — along with some from the National Theatre and the Donmar Warehouse — on screen in the British Council’s TheatreHD season which runs in five Ukrainian cities until the end of June 2014.