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Photo Peter Mould

Photo Peter Mould

‘I am Hamlet, you are Hamlet, we are Hamlet’ – Theatre Nation and the great Dane

Theatre Nation’s groundbreaking production of the tale of the melancholy Dane, featuring award-winning Shakespearean actor Emily Carding in the title role, opens this week at St Mary in the Castle. A. Vasudevan talks all things Hamlet with the Hastings-based theatre company.

Hamlet is one of the greatest plays ever written, and it’s always relevant in terms of its themes: mental health, power and the blur between the ‘private’ and ‘public’. Its universality is why it is so appealing,’ says Tom Daldry, co-founder, with veteran actor–director Patrick Kealey, of Theatre Nation, Hastings newest theatre company.

The play, which previews on February 21 at St Mary in the Castle, is a new adaptation of a much-honoured classic and, as such, some might say, quite a risk for a fledgling company to take on. ‘We thought that, as our first major project, it would be an exhilarating creative challenge and a statement of intent to show that professional theatre is achievable,’ Daldry explains.

With a running time of 2.5 hours, Kealey’s adaption cuts the Fortinbras’ subplot completely. This, Daldry says, allows them to shine a light on the play’s ‘toxic masculinity’ and ‘how it obliterates the family and the state (one and the same in Hamlet’s family).

HAMLET+A3+PRINT_UPDATE-1‘In a time where the President of the United States is brazenly misogynistic, and as everyday sexual harassment continues to come to light, it feels important to interpret this play with a focus on this issue. In Hamlet, women have no agency.’

It is perhaps this that makes the casting of Emily Carding in the role of the Prince so surprising, although other women, from Sarah Bernhardt to Maxine Peake, more recently, have filled the role admirably, and Carding herself is an experienced Shakespearean actor.

‘I hadn’t planned on a female Hamlet, specifically,’ Kealey says. ‘I saw Emily in her wonderful Richard III,’ Carding’s much-lauded one-woman show, ‘and it’s such an intimate performance, wonderfully simple but very effective … I thought, “That’s it.”

‘I have been an actor myself and often been very frustrated by casting decisions … the typecasting syndrome. I always remember telling myself, when I’m a director, I will simply cast the best actor for the role and I really wanted to work with Emily as she was clearly going to be the best Hamlet.’

‘I’d played Hamlet before,’ Carding says, ‘but only in death. Now I get to play the whole thing. It’s a part that I think any actor aspires to. It holds a particular fascination because of what it has to say about the human spirit. It appeals to everyone on a universal level.’

Each member of the cast brings something different to the table through age, experience or discipline. ‘It’s always interesting to put elements together that wouldn’t necessarily normally be – to see what that fusion becomes,’ says Kealey.

00Screen-shot-from Kaizo

Seki performing in the film Kaizo

It seems Kealey has a particular talent for synthesising different artistic disciplines into his work. An example of this is the interweaving of Butoh into the play through the casting of Japanese performer Yumino Seki as the ghost of Hamlet’s father. Seki is a classically trained dancer and practitioner of Butoh, which she learned when she moved to London in her twenties. She utilises Butoh, which has a beauty that exists in darkness, in her role as the ghost. I ask her what she thinks it adds to the performance. ‘I’m sure it’s a different dimension – not just the dimension of the living and the dying, but another, of someone looking over the whole … My task is to bring a different quality to the play.’

Kealey, who is a huge fan of Seki’s work, says, ‘It seemed like it would be an interesting energy to bring Butoh, which is so deeply entrenched in the body and nonverbal, together with one of the most verbal texts ever written … And then to include a soundscape by Oscar Smith, who’s a very gifted musician–composer – well, you know something interesting and alive will happen in the space.

‘And that’s what I want when I go to the theatre – I want to question am I alive? Am I present in the event? I want to be surprised. I want to be amazed. I want to be elevated… Tom and I want to create something interesting in our theatre, partly because this is an extraordinary town, with an extraordinary gene pool of talent.’

‘One thing that’s very important to me,’ Kealey continues, ‘is the balance of experience and youthful ambition. I’m a passionate believer in youthful ambition: I believe people should dream big.’ Theatre Nation is hoping to develop an extensive outreach programme that will focus on working with young people who might not otherwise have access to creative opportunities. ‘In this way,’ Daldry says, ‘the name Theatre Nation is a metaphor for hope – even if it’s just for ourselves.’ And that hope, it seems, begins in St Mary in the Castle with Hamlet.

Hamlet produced by Theatre Nation

Cast: Emily Carding, Sean Mclevy, Elizabeth McNally, Oscar Smith, Alexander Hunt, Matt Hastings, Sabina Arthur, Yumino Seki and Sam Lewis.

St Mary in the Castle, Hastings
21 Feb preview at 19.30
22–24 Feb at 19.30

Rye Creative Centre
28 Feb at 19.30
1 Mar at 14.30 & 19.30
2 & 3 Mar at 19.30

£15 (£13 concession)
Preview & Matinee performance: £10
Book tickets here.

Theatre Nation’s website. 

You can read more about Yumino Seki in a previous HOT article.

Posted 21:37 Sunday, Feb 18, 2018 In: Performance

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