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Curtain falls on Hamlet's global odyssey

BBC News BBC News 25/04/2016 By Tim Masters
William Shakespeare © Reuters William Shakespeare

After two years visiting almost every country in the world, a touring production of Hamlet has played its final show at Shakespeare's Globe in London.

The cast and crew received a standing ovation and were showered with roses as they brought the play to a close at the open air theatre on Sunday.

Speaking on stage after the performance, director Dominic Dromgoole said the cast had "rewritten the book" on how to do a theatre tour.

"Somehow we got this tour around the world, and somehow with earthquakes shaking and epidemics raging... we got everyone home," he said.

Astonishingly - despite sandstorms, bus breakdowns and lost luggage - the 16-strong company never had to cancel a performance.

When their props and costumes failed to make it to the Pacific islands they used billiard cues as swords. When their bus broke down in Guinea-Bissau they hitched a ride in a hearse.

The company performed 293 shows in 197 countries, having set out from the Globe on a boat bound for Amsterdam on 23 April 2014.

The largest audience was in Sudan with 3,500 people watching and another 1,500 trying to get through the gates. The smallest audience on the tour numbered 27.

"These people have been on the most extraordinary journey through all of the continents playing in the most diverse range of venues imaginable," said the show's producer Tom Bird.

'Surreal experience'

Those venues on the 186,000 mile journey included ancient amphitheatres, beaches, refugee camps and church halls.

They performed at the United Nations in New York and were the first mixed sex company to play in Saudi Arabia.

The penultimate location before the cast's return to London on Friday took place in front of Danish royalty at Elsinore castle - the actual setting for the story of Hamlet.

Naeem Hayat, who played Hamlet for the final show at the Globe, described being in Elsinore as "probably the most surreal experience" of his life.

"It felt so special and right to be there in that very grand room with the actual queen of Denmark," the actor said.

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On Saturday, the company put on a special performance for US President Barack Obama at the Globe before their final four sell-out shows.

The end of the tour also marked the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death, which has been marked by festivities throughout the UK over the weekend.

Hayat, who grew up in east London, shared the role of Hamlet over the two years with Nigerian-born Ladi Emeruwa.

"What's so special about Hamlet is that it is about everything," Emeruwa told the BBC before the final performance.

"It encapsulates the whole human experience. And depending on your social, political, philosophical standpoint it complete affects how you view the plays."

The Hamlet tour was unable to visit a small number of countries - such as Syria, Libya and North Korea.

As a result the play was staged to displaced diasporas in refugee camps - including Syrian refugees at the Zaatari camp in Jordan and Yemeni refugees at the Markazi Camp in Djibouti. The tour also performed at the Jungle refugee camp in Calais.

Thirty members of the exiled North Korean community in London attended the final show at the Globe.

The performance also marked Dromgoole's departure from the Globe, after a decade as artistic director.

Both his predecessor, Mark Rylance, and the Globe's incoming boss, Emma Rice, were in the audience on Sunday night.

In an emotional valedictory speech, Dromgoole said that one of the Globe's stewards had given him a white rose and quoted a famous line from Hamlet:

"Good night sweet prince".

Shakespeare: England's greatest storyteller

Born in 1564, and the earliest record of his writing dates from 1592

Wrote around 38 full plays including Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Hamlet, King Lear and Macbeth

Words including "assassination", "addiction", "generous" and "bedroom" had their first recorded uses in his plays

Introduced phrases like "elbow room", "heart of gold" and "tower of strength" to the English language

Acted as well as wrote, and owned a share in the original Globe theatre

Died on 23 April 1616, aged 52

In depth: Shakespeare's life and legacy.

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