Hamlet came to a local stage two Fridays ago, brought by the Shakespeare’s Globe which is on a two-year travelling world tour commemorating the playwright’s 450th birth anniversary; a treat for Guyana, or so I thought.

Hamlet is a long play. The Globe players fit into just over three hours, a play that is typically four to five hours in length and the audience at the National Cultural Centre could not have been happier.

They also managed to bring it into 2014 without butchering the context and message; using modern English and costumes.

20140104culture boxThe set was simple and old fashioned; travelling trunks were used as props and clothes were used to build the set – economical, light and easily built and brought down for a travelling group heading to Port of Spain after their Georgetown performance. There were no light changes and effects or curtains to end and open acts; no use of recorded sounds or music. Microphones were used to propel voices, though it seemed the Cultural Centre’s technical staff made a game of switching on and off the mics. Or perhaps there were glitches – who knows?

Scene changes saw the cast dancing, singing, playing instruments and frolicking on stage as they changed characters and props. Anyone familiar with this kind of fast-paced theatre with a sense of traditional staging would have noticed the change in scene, but it appeared confusing to the uninitiated. The play did seem to go on and on and on and it was the song and dance to change scenes that woke a few people up. Believe me, many fell asleep and no one, and I mean no one clapped as customary at the end of scenes and acts.

Perhaps it was the inaudible gaps or the long and difficult storyline that made dozens of people leave for home during intermission. And the double casting of some characters confused the audience even more; seeing a dead man come back in another act was disconcerting.

Shakespeare is not easy to comprehend, especially by an audience used to ‘Nothing to Laugh About’.

Of course the story would be further difficult to follow since it was in a peculiar language. Somehow, Shakespeare often wrote in riddles and rhymes, poetic and involved stories within stories.

This provided comedy for some in attendance and while many jokes were not understood and went by without laughter, a few were caught – particularly mockery and insults.

At the end the audience, which by the way included our President, Prime Minister, some Cabinet members and Members of Parliament, applauded the production. Others, I am sure, clapped in relief at the play’s conclusion. Why I say this is because I set out to ask for reviews and they were dismal. Disappointing really.

I must admit that I am only familiar with three of Shakespeare’s plays and Hamlet was not one of them. If I had not read the synopsis of the play before attending I too would have been confused and lost. This is not the fault of the Globe players but my own conditioning to comedy, curtains and lights.

Versatility in local arts is rare and when we are offered some change we hesitate to embrace it. Trust me, even the show starting promptly at 20:00hrs had some people in a daze after being used to late starts and delays.

The typical Guyanese audience that fills the seats of the NCC was not expected to be there, but the theatre’s auditorium was somewhat filled with the balcony being completely empty. Of course this was chopped considerably by the second half.

This must be changed for the future of theatre and drama in Guyana. Its times to grow away from the sameness that is usually on offer. That is one style of theatre yes but the response to Hamlet by the Guyanese audience mirrors what takes place when locals attempt serious plays. Real talent goes unnoticed and unappreciated, if it doesn’t cater to the crass. We are better than that, we really are.

(Jairo Rodrigues)

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