Knock, knock. Who’s there? Hamlet.
To help celebrate the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth, Dromgoole (Will & Me: How Shakespeare Took Over My Life, 2006, etc.), the artistic director of the Globe Theatre in London, came up with a fantastical idea: to perform Hamlet in all 204 countries in the world. “With a few detours to avoid war and epidemics,” they did, settling on 197 countries—no North Korea, of course, and for some reason, France passed. This is Dromgoole’s thoroughly enjoyable and charming story of how they did it: “Unprecedented chutzpah and a healthy quantum of stupidity helped launch the mission.” They picked Hamlet because, in the author’s estimation, it is “a unique play in the canon of world drama” and possibly “the strangest and most beautiful play ever written.” Dromgoole tells several stories. Besides detailing the two-year tour itself, it’s a story of the play, its themes and language, famous past players, and how it has been performed and received over the years. He describes how the 12 original players (plus a few others here and there) and four stage managers were chosen. The tour kicked off in London in April 2014 with two performances. Then it was off to the Netherlands. By mid-May, they had 10 performances under their collective belts. In early August in Mexico City, the company was “crumbling like a castle under bombardment.” Players were ill, and the city was “decked out in full Day of the Dead splendor.” Scenes were omitted, but the play must go on. On the island of Palau, the queen demanded a personal fee of $1,500 to use the performance hall. In Cambodia, the play’s poster featured Hamlet holding Yorrick’s skull; the irony was palpable. In Saudi Arabia, it was the “first time that Shakespeare [was] performed with men and women on the stage.” The final performance took place at the Globe in April 2016.
Sly, witty, and delightful—a glorious Shakespearean romp.