“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!