“Hamlet was performed in 1607 in Sierra Leone. We want to know why.”
All right, let’s be straight. Is it another play about white saviours bringing the “culture” to the rest of the world? Relax. It’s the opposite.
“Hamlet” is just a starting point
“The Hamlet Voyage” gives the stage to the diverse people of “Non-England”: the citizens of Sierra Leone, but also the inhabitants of XXVII c. India. “Hamlet” is just a starting point, a reason to tell a tale of people, their cultures, music, dance, and local legends.
Rex Obano’s play follows the story of the first English merchant voyage to India in 1607, which made a stop off in Sierra Leone to restock the ship and treat sailors afflicted by scurvy. While they were there, there were records made in the ship logs detailing a performance of Hamlet given by the sailors for the local West African dignitaries.
A complex fairytale… about real people
Sounds simple? Well, Obano plays with concepts, physical theatre, puppetry, fairytales, and ethnic tales to make it a much more complex story, and to offer much more than a simple answer to the play’s question. From a classic “One Thousand and One Nights” concept of a tale within a tale to African legends – the play keeps on delivering new, tasty treats for the audience to unveil.
Staging is simple and this way it allows for the audience’s imagination to run wild. One ingenious prop used throughout the play is a giant pop-up book that is used to showcase the shape of the ship, but also the scenery of an African village or a palace in India. And again, the form of a book ties the play beautifully to the theme of a story and literature, brilliant idea! Live music created using drums draws that final line in the perfect storytelling of this tale.
Dive into the life of the XXVII Sierra Leone community
For me, “The Hamlet Voyage” hits the spot in moments when it takes us to Sierra Leone and lets us just spend time with the locals. Songs, choreography, and daily life of the people who have already gotten used to the Portuguese colonialists, but are suddenly visited by the English, are an interesting plot by itself and I’d be happy to watch a longer play just about this!
The cast excels at the physical theatre as well as dancing and singing. The standout performances for me were delivered by Pauline Babula, in the role of Adama, and Joe Feeney (George King). Babula’s performance transported me to Sierra Leone, and her moment of storytelling of the legend about the elephant and the goat was the highlight of the show. Feeney shines in the role of a man with emotional luggage who just tends to be in the wrong place at the wrong time – he managed to create a character that I could feel sorry for.
If you fancy a play delivered by a diverse cast, telling a culturally complex story, you found the right one here. It’s a light comedy with a strong journey and discovery plot, which goes down perfectly if you want to relax on a Friday evening. And yes, you’ll love it even if you’re not a Shakespeare fan!
PR Invite – I was invited to see the show. All opinions are my own.
Written by: Rex Obano
Directed by: Ben Prusiner
Presented by: Re:Verse Theatre
Date/Time: 20 – 23 July @ 7.30pm. Sat matinee @ 2pm
Tickets £12 – £22