Hamlet: Globe to Globe

Today being the day that I technically graduate (in absentia) from my Shakespeare MA, I’m celebrating with a review of a Shakespeare-related upcoming book that I got to read thanks to Canongate and Netgalley.

Hamlet: Globe to Globe by Dominic Dromgoole

Hamlet: Globe to Globe is a book about a huge project and one that those interested in Shakespearean theatre in the UK and beyond probably have heard about: Shakespeare’s Globe theatre took Hamlet on a tour to, as far as possible, every country in the world. In this book, Dominic Dromgoole describes their endeavours alongside thoughts on Hamlet and performing the play around the globe. Part memoir and part book about Hamlet and performance, Hamlet: Globe to Globe gives a sense of the excitement of the project whilst telling anecdotes about the reality of the undertaking.

Each chapter is focused around a theme and jumps between anecdotes about the tour and certain countries and Dromgoole’s discussions about Hamlet, which are fairly light and open, focused on character and performance. His vision of Hamlet as elusive and protean, as a play that should be less revered than actively used, fits with the book and project, suggesting that the play was right to be performed around the world in English. Whilst Dromgoole gives a rather romanticised image of Hamlet as a play at the beginning of the book, throughout the book he emphasises how it worked differently at different points in the tour, suggesting that he believes his romantic image of Hamlet as universal play full of human themes.

The specific anecdotes are the best part of the book, from playing in refugee camps and in hostile environments to the company doing speeches at the Globe in front of Obama. Political context is given for some of the performances and, though not perfect, shows an appreciation for the histories and contexts in which they ended up bringing their production. Descriptions of rotational casting practices and rehearsal methods adds theatrical interest, as does information about how they worked around some of the more difficult venue issues.

Hamlet: Globe to Globe is a subjective, endearing description of a touring production, one which accepts with self-deprecation that originally they naively believed they could change the world, but instead discovered that the world was a turbulent and difficult place, much like the world of the play.