“Hamlet” Fall Tour — Week 9

By Grace Andrews

Greetings from the West Coast. We’re half way through our tour, and as we pass through each state I’m consistently struck by the passion and vigour in American students. As an actor, when you play a tragedy like Hamlet, keeping the story fresh and regularly wrestling with the deep ideas around grief requires serious stamina. However nothing is more energising than in each new place, meeting students who share a love and connection to this text – and an appetite for making it live. It’s inspiring, and an opportunity we all relish.

The world has changed in the last week, with the US Supreme Court voting Kavanagh in to rule as a justice for life. I followed Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony closely, and as she spoke I was hit by the courage of her confession on a global stage. That day, in running a workshop at San José State University with a group of freshman and seniors, we broke down Ophelia’s confession speech and looked at each word, ‘He took-‘, ‘He took me-‘, ‘He took me by the wrist-‘, ‘He took me by the wrist and held me hard.’ Without my direction, the atmosphere in the room changed, and the students began to speak the text with commitment, fierce energy and truth. Regardless of personal stories, the understanding of this experience was tangible – and we discussed the power of empathy in acting. We also discussed what it feels like to not be believed, not to be listened to, and not to be given respect – and how as a woman or in any minority this feeling is all too familiar. We recognised the need in Ophelia to be heard, and examined her story and her quiet death with searing appreciation and a very real understanding.

By Gis and by Saint Charity,
  Alack, and fie, for shame!
 Young men will do ’t, if they come to ’t.
  By Cock, they are to blame.
 Quoth she, “Before you tumbled me,
  You promised me to wed.”
 “So would I ha’ done, by yonder sun,
  An thou hadst not come to my bed.”

As we continue on to Gainesville, Florida – I am keen to examine and re-examine this play. At this point, we are confident in our production, and have found an ensemble slickness, which works like a well-oiled machine! We know the moments of momentum, the moments of stillness, when we can let go and play, and when we need to keep on the line. We have muscularly learnt what is required, and in our bodies we have a sense of the shape of this five-act journey. Within this familiarity can come the danger of complacency, and it is tempting to rest in choices that work well.

Personally speaking, one of the reasons I became an actor is curiosity. I believe that without curiosity, theatre cannot live! So it is remarkable and imperative that through the eyes of each new audience, we learn nuances, new depths and new challenges within this play. Each performance is an opportunity to find new ways to speak this text with heart and authenticity – and I am determined not to let it rest until the days after our last performance in London, and maybe not even then!

“Hamlet” Fall Tour — Week 6

By Grace Andrews

Greetings from South Bend! It’s the day before we open here at Washington Hall. The Indiana skies greeted us with low-lying cloud, a bruised purple haze and rumbling storms. The perfect backdrop for our tragedy.

Settling in at Notre Dame however, has been much more welcoming, and we feel instantly at home in this warm and dynamic environment. The American energy is empowering, and something about the space and air here fuels us with a renewed drive. Our horizons have been opened, and so have our minds – and our play begins to take on a new depth in our new context.

With that freedom, come questions. We think we understand this play, the rise and fall within it, the undercurrents, the moments of oblivion. The challenge now is being open to the potential to re-learn, re-examine, and rejuvenate. Choices we made and loved back in London are tested, tried and sometimes thrown out. We grit our teeth, we smile, and sometimes we cry. The play and process demands a greater muscularity than ever, and we rise to meet it. As if under a microscope, we examine our roles and attempt to give them more life than before. I’m drawn back to an exercise I learnt whilst training, ‘I present. I share.’ The difference in these two small sentences is monumental. It is easy to present a clever idea. It requires much more courage to share your heart, but it has the power to unite us in what it means to be human.

Everyone works differently, but I am struck by the intensity of these final hours before we truly begin. I have been stuck on the Ophelia ‘madness’ scenes, and feeling decidedly wretched and defeatist about it, desperately trying to see some light. Part of the block comes from the songs, which are so exposing I want to run. I search, unrelatedly for a song on my Apple Music to make me feel better (get a grip, Grace!) and suddenly – there it is. An Anthony & The Johnsons song in which the lyrics are so brutally clear they make me see her for the first time in weeks. I think Ophelia wants Gertrude to be her friend. Her ally. She has the courage to cry for help, and ask the questions no one will face.

Hope there’s someone who’ll take care of me

When I die, will I go?

Hope there’s someone who’ll set my heart free

Nice to hold when I’m tired

There’s a ghost on the ‘rizon

When I go to bed

How can I fall asleep at night

How will I rest my head?

Oh I’m scared of the middle place

Between light and nowhere

I don’t want to be the one

Left in there, left in there

“Hamlet” Fall Tour — Week 5

by Grace Andrews

The aftermath of our showing last week has brought one word to all of our attention – simplicity. We have pushed far in creative exploration of this story – and now it is our job to tell the story with the most truth and clarity possible, and bring it to America with pride!

Often, the solution to this is to simply do less. As an actor, it is hugely tempting to be interesting. In doing so, occasionally we move further away from the truth of simply being able to stand and speak, and let the text soar uncluttered.

From L to R: Ben Eagle, Grace Andrews, Wendy Morgan.

At the airport, I touched base with Wendy Morgan (Gertrude, Rosencrantz, Horatio and Lucianus) and Ben Eagle (Claudius, Francisco, Gravedigger) to ask them where their heads were at as we embarked on the next stage of our adventure.

Wendy Morgan

G – How do you feel about Gertrude?
W – I’m still in a process which won’t end, so I don’t feel I’ve arrived at anything I’m totally happy with yet, but I feel like I have a good base to kick off from. Although actually, last night, I completely questioned what I was doing, and thought hmm, but then I thought, no – maybe I am on the right path.

G – What have you found your main challenge to be so far?
W – I’d say – waiting. Normally if a situation is uncomfortable I might want to resolve it, but I’m trying to wait and allow it to be uncomfortable, and not rush into save everything, just allow, and trust everyone is alright, I suppose.

G – And what has been your main joy?
W – Being with everyone and working on this play, in the way we’re doing it, and taking it on tour to America, and being able to talk to students about this process.

G – What do you prioritise when working on Shakespeare?
W – The structure of the verse and the prose – The Form.

G – How do you feel about your role within this company?
W – Every single Shakespeare part I would love to play. I feel like there’s literally no small part in Shakespeare, as it’s all part of this big piece of music. So yeah, I’m so grateful to be playing Gertrude, who’s quite difficult in the underwritten way she is, but I’m also playing Horatio, amongst others, so that really is quite a rounded experience.

G – Anything to add?
W – I’m honoured to be a part of this project, for many reasons, particularly because my teacher was Peter Hall, and he gave me all that I know, and I’m honoured to be able to share that.

Ben Eagle

G – How do you feel about Claudius?
B – Ooh, he’s a good-looking chap, ha. He’s the villain of the piece, but equally to knowingly play a villain is not a helpful way to approach a character. I’d like to find the truth in him, and why he does what he does.

G – What have you found your main challenge to be so far?
B – Working with such talented actors, and trying to match their phenomenal talent, of course.

G – And what has been your main joy?
B – My biggest joy, is after five weeks of turbulence, and pleasure and creativity, we have a version of Hamlet which is now clear and succinct, and I hope a pleasure to perform and a joy to watch.

G – How do you feel about taking this play to the USA?
B – Well America is a very interesting place, and I think Hamlet throws up so many different themes and arguments, that each individual audience, no matter where you’re from, will draw something different from it. But it’s not up to me to make that decision. I’ll try and say the words like I mean them, that’s all.

G – What do you prioritise when you speak Shakespeare?
B – On this project, I have been encouraged to use the verse more, which can be extremely useful. It’s not something I immediately go to. I try to find the sense in the line, which is interesting as I think the sense definitely comes from the verse. That’s been a learning curve for me. I want to make the words mine, despite the fact that they are sometimes archaic and it’s poetry – a heightened language, my aim would be to make it as naturalistic as possible.

G – Anything to add?
B – It’s been a joy so far, and I can’t wait to perform to the American students and faculties. When do we get paid?