Friends, siblings and cousins, professors, lecturers and students all stood in line, waiting for the gates to Kinnaird College’s Perin Boga Amphitheatre to open. This was for one of those rare opportunities to watch Globe Theatre perform Shakespeare’s Hamlet in Pakistan(!).
Birds chirping, leaves falling, bees humming, ladybirds crawling along with the breeze blowing softly on our strained eyes, our sweating, clasped hands, our alert ears. On April 1, one would have thought that Kinnaird was up to a practical prank. Thankfully, it wasn’t.
Globe Theatre was built in Southwark, London, on the south bank of the River Thames, over 400 years ago. The present-day Globe is said to be a reconstruction of the original building. Its performances are highly credible and routinely screened in cinemas in the UK and released on DVD. At Kinnaird, it was our once-in-a-lifetime chance to see the actors weave their magic on stage and bring to life the eponymous tragic hero, the romantic Ophelia and the wise Horatio.
The play commenced at 6.30pm sharp and went on for a good three hours, with a fifteen-minute interval. With a cast and crew of only 17 people travelling around the world, they role-played at least 30 people on stage. This performance was in the tradition of old English theatre that was all about “touring”, “trucking up to strange towns,” and “performing plays in inn yards,” “in fairs” or even under the “canopy of the sky.”
All this meant using smaller crew, and a minimalistic set and props, with no major technical requirements of sound or lights. This was precisely what the audience in Lahore witnessed that early April night: the evening sun setting and giving rise to the clear navy, moonless sky; live music sung and played on barrels and trunks by the actors themselves. The incredible aspect of the performance was that it remained in sync from the very welcome note to the last of many bows they took.
Not to forget, the acting was incredible and the direction impeccable. The most talked-of scene was the “mouse-trap play” where Hamlet performs — with his uncle the King, Claudius and his mother, the Queen, Gertrude as the audience — about a king and a queen and that king’s dead older brother. Naeem Hayat, Miranda Foster and Keith Bartlett performed these six characters. They switched their roles, but not their clothes and hairdos, and within the span of just a few minutes, the audience was entranced in that captivating ‘play-within-a-play’ technique.
Perin Boga Amphitheatre’s seating of around a thousand was filled to the brim, even though the tickets prices fared between Rs1,500 and Rs5,000. It was insignificant regarding who was seated where, when such powerful lines as “Frailty – thy name is Woman,” “Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t” and “God has given you one face and you paint yourselves another” were spoken by such expert actors. A realisation dawned on us, connecting us across geographical lengths and timeless barriers.
Later, Hayat, who played Hamlet, revealed that his parents were originally from Pakistan; hence, “performing here had a personal significance for him. The last time I visited the country was when I was twelve!”
Lahore proved to be a keen audience, as was evident from the long-held standing ovation given to the actors. The Globe’s performance was worth every single dime you spent on the ticket.
Shakespearean performances are famously soaked with morals and knowledge, a wise old king’s tale or a distraught prince’s existential crisis. Connecting the royalty and the aristocracy with the laymen, the insightful and the foolish person, the world’s greatest dramatist is understood and applauded not just in England but beyond borders of time and land. And Globe’s performance did nothing short of that, that very night.