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Shakespeare on World Tour

Theatre Director Book

Dominic Dromgoole , Canongate , June 1, 2017
Theatre Director Book by Dominic Dromgoole A shadow hangs over this book. The Globe has been London theatre's bad news story of the last year. The ruckus rumbles on with the last production, “Twelfth Night”, compared unfavourably with a production just along the Thames at the National. This book is a record of the Globe at a high, performance after performance of “Hamlet” in city after city. As known from previous books “the Full Room” and “Will and Me”, reviewed December 2016, Dromgoole is a lively writer and an authoritative voice on theatre.

In public he has expressed solidarity with a fellow director. The book pauses to laud the excellence of the Globe's board. An early sentence reveals his own approach to his craft. “The best way to have a conception is to have no conception at all.” This leaves the concept-ers embarrassed because they have nothing to talk about but the play. “Our job at the Globe was always to tell the story cleanly, to judge the relationships impartially and to let the language do the work.”

The subject matter of the Globe's global travel is vast with material that might fill several books. The destinations kick off with Amsterdam, Bremen, Wittenberg and eleven venues seven Baltic countries. A distinguished visitor has been seen at the Globe itself prior to the great journey. President Obama is visitor to mark the four hundredth Shakespeare anniversary. The tally is 185 countries. Roseau, Managua, Monrovia, Freetown, Antanarivo, Bishkek, Dushanbe, Vientiane, Lesotho: the locations and their range awe. Unfortunately they make for a disappointing book.

The drawback to the concept is that Dromgoole was not there. A venture of this kind requires a diary capturing the close-up detail. But he was not there on the ground but an accompanist flying in and out of destinations. That gives the description of places a blurry feel. The Zocalo, the great square at the heart of Mexico City, is given a skimpy description of a visitor at speed. Djibouti is given a quick fly-in geopolitical summary. There is in literature a contrasting visitor. Look only to Evelyn Waugh when he was in the region to see the richness of observation in accomplished writing.

In Phnom Penh the snapshot history and treatment of the Khmer Rouge is not good. “It was a horror show that only invasion could sort out.” The rushedness is reinforced by the proof-readers letting through a sentence about political legitimacy being “leant” rather than “lent.”

The grandeur of central Bogota as an example is lost. Instead the text ambles towards the author's daughter who has been reading Kerouac just before he leaves for Latin America. Quito is undescribed in favour of references to Dean Moriarty and Sal Paradise. The result is a pity because Dromgoole's stewardship of the Globe was a period for acclaim. The sharpness is there when he turns to “Hamlet” itself. He looks to the treatment of speaking the verse identifying the “iambic fundamentalists” against “those who don't give a toss.” “Both are criminal” he says “the latter deserving of a longer sentence.” The Globe has a guru in Giles Block. “The stresses are flexible, there is a form in the verse and observing that form, and its hidden music, is the best way to understand the intentions behind the thought.”

Like all writers Dromgoole is strong and illuminating when on his home territory. Unfortunately these insights are infrequent across the length of “Hamlet: Globe to Globe.” He says of theatre itself “when every detail is animated, then we start to warrant that life- not speeches, or ideas, or patterns- is at the heart of the mystery of each play.” That animation of every detail is not enacted in his book.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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