For three months, the touring company of the Globe Theatre’s latest production of Hamlet – co-directed by Dominic Dromgoole and Bill Buckhurst – has been travelling across the USA and North America, starting in New York City in September and ending on 25 November in Santa Monica, California. Hamlet is played by Michael Benz, while Dickon Tyrrell is both Claudius and Hamlet’s Ghost. They spoke to Exeunt about the challenges of touring and performing one of William Shakespeare’s most celebrated tragedies.
Do audiences in different places react differently to your performance, and how do you negotiate that?
Michael Benz: Start big. Our directors from the very beginning were looking for big broad strokes. It might sound like a bad thing but I think there’s something to be said about starting big and then pulling back depending on what venue you are in. A lot of our tour stops in the UK were outside and that creates a very different sense of performance. You’re going to have a very different performance in the Folger Theatre [Washington DC], with 250 people, than if you’re on the side of a cliff in Cornwall in the wind. So in order to prepare yourself for that, I think you start big.
And yeah, it’s strange going into a rehearsal process knowing just how many places you’re going to visit and how the performance will have to adapt. At this point, I think we’ve gotten into a good groove when it comes to shifting the performance depending on the space. It’s a very subtle thing. To me the audiences seem to be sort of universal; they seem to be consistent in their reaction and how they like the play.
Dickon Tyrrell: You create something and then it’s a question really of just having the confidence to perform that. You don’t think, ‘Oh, I’m playing Mexico therefore I better change the storytelling.’ Your job as an actor is to reproduce what you found in the rehearsal room. The experiences have differed in millimeters from the UK to Mexico, to the USA. There may have been moments when we’ve said, ‘Oh, they didn’t laugh so much there’, but again I’d say that’s in millimeters. I suspect it’s Shakespeare that produces that connection.
What is it like touring with a group of actors for such a long time?
MB: You become a little family. Every time I see the cast I say, “Hello, family.” I think they probably find that somewhat annoying! We’ve become a band of players, you know; we become very, very close. You form life-long relationships with people. It’s an incredibly vulnerable experience being in a show with people for seven months a time. But it’s so much fun, it really is.
DT: It’s a fantastic opportunity; it’s really amazing to travel around the USA. But you know, you’re away from home, living out of a suitcase, so you slightly go into hibernation mode emotionally because you’re not with your family. When you’re single, it’s very different. Some of the younger members of the company develop a kind of family. When you have your own family, you tend not to get drawn into that so much, really. It’s kind of like being on a submarine, almost like cabin fever. You don’t want to become grumpy and miserable because you’re with people all of the time, so it’s about finding your survival technique. That’s quite a challenge, and I suppose that’s quite unique to actors – and archeologists perhaps!