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Ladi Emeruwa… Homeboy on world stage for Hamlet

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EMERUWA

• I’d love to work in Nigeria

• Homecoming is a dream come true

LADI Emeruwa was all smiles, as he breathed the fresh air of Music Society of Nigeria (MUSON) Centre, Onikan, after the almost grilling two hours-40 minute production. As he spoke, streaks of sweat cascaded. “It was so wonderful. It was really engaging. We had warm and passionate audience. It was very, very moving when I came on stage, and the applause was really, really moving,” he said.

   Though, he played Hamlet on the first day of performance, the role has been shared between him and Naeem Hayat. Keith Bartlett, John Dougall, Miranda Foster, Phoebe Fildes, Beruce Khan, Tom Lawrence, Jennifer Leong, Rawiri Paratene, Matthew Romain and Amanda Wilkin played all other male and female parts in rotation

   Since The Hamlet Globe to Globe tour opened at Shakespeare’s Globe, London, on April 23, 2014, to mark the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth, this unprecedented theatrical adventure has toured a significant number of countries in the world, and still pushing on the main vision of reaching every country on earth in two years.   

   Directed by the Globe’s Artistic Director, Dominic Dromgoole, the play has been staged at The Globe, in Wittenberg, in Tromsø within the Arctic Circle, in Moscow, through the Baltics, in Kiev, at the United Nations in New York, at the oldest theatre in Central America, the majestic Teatro Nacional de El Salvador, on the banks of the St Lawrence River in Canada, in the shadow of Mexico’s Yucatán Cathedral, at a beautiful marina in Antigua & Barbuda, on a mountainside in Guatemala, in St Kitts and Nevis, in Poland, outdoors in Chilean parks, in Argentina, and across majestic national theatres throughout South America. 

    Hamlet arrived in Africa in January and the first performance was at Algeria’s National Theatre. Hamlet Globe to Globe has since performed at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Egypt, the beautiful St Louis Cathedral in Carthage, Tunisia, at Ethiopia’s National Theatre in Addis Ababa, as a free outdoor performance in Sudan – making its way through East Africa, from Somalia to Rwanda, Burundi, Kenya and Uganda.

  The cast and crew have travelled by boat, sleeper trains, jeeps, tall ships, buses and aeroplanes, across the continents to perform over two-dozen parts on a stripped-down booth stage. The company of twelve actors and four stage managers has used a completely portable set to stage a Hamlet that celebrates all the exuberance and invention of Shakespeare’s language in a brisk two hours and 40 minutes.

   What has been the experience touring the world?

  “Oh, we’ve been to so many countries; I just can’t name them. One highlight was Kiev because we were there a day before their elections. Another highlight was when we were in Rwanda and we had to move the entire play outside and had to do it outside basically. It was incredible. So many; too many to count, really,” he confessed. “This has been an incredible opportunity for me, especially, as it is my first professional job. It has given me a chance to visit many countries of the world, and as part of it, I’m back home. This is a dream come true and I’m happy people enjoyed the show.”

   His experience in Sudan?

   “Sudan is funny, we have gone through Venezuala, Somaliland and other countries across the Americas and Europe. Travelling is thrilling and after travelling for about 18 hours, you still need to perform for about six hours. Luckily enough we are two playing the role of Hamlet — Naeem Hayat and I,” Emeruwa said.

   How does it feel coming to Nigeria to perform for the first time?

  “Yeah, it’s incredible; so, so real. For me it’s a credible thing, as this is my first time to visit my country after a while. And on top of it all is the goal to come back to my own, so it means a lot to me,” he said. 

   Has he gone to see his family?

   “Yes, very briefly, barely two minutes,” he laughed.

BORN in Nigeria, Emeruwa came to boarding school in England at the age of 10 and went on to study Law at the University of Bristol. You wonder whether the actor, a recent graduate of LAMDA, who also starred as Brutus in LAMDA’s Julius Caesar at Wilton’s Music Hall, is still in legal practice, “yes,” he admitted, as he mopped up the beads of sweat on his face.

   How does it feel playing Hamlet as a black man?

  “To be honest, I’m an actor, who just happens to be black, playing Hamlet. I don’t see anything special for one colour playing one of these characters. Shakespeare’s plays are about gods, demons, witches, wizards, and for one black man to play Danish is a strange thing, but for a man to play wizard is okay,” he sighed.

   Why is that discrepancy? 

   “I mean, I just feel privileged as an actor to be playing it; that’s all,” he insisted.

   

WERE you influenced by David Oyelowo to play the role of Hamlet?

   “I don’t think David did Hamlet, though, he played a lot of Shakespearean roles; to the best of my knowledge, I don’t know if he did Hamlet. I have actually watched him on stage do other Shakespearean plays, not Hamlet. Though, he has actually transited from the stage to the screen, he was really on stage before I became mentioned in the theatre. However, what got me interested in Shakespeare and in theatre was what I saw in 2009, when a Nigerian played Romeo at the Globe and I said this is another Nigerian like me playing a leading role in a performance, and I said to myself, I can do it,” he revealed.

   Playing such a great role demands an over the years grasping of Shakespeare’s grammar and the texture of his plays, however, surprisingly, Emeruwa never climbed the stage until 1999. 

   According to him, “I only did a school play, when I went to England and I saw a play in 1999. It took a while for me to be confident and put myself on the stage and over the years, I found I could do it.” 

   Was it at the university that you saw the play that inspired you?

    “No! The play that inspired me was actually one of the Shakespeareans play, it was in 2009. I was at this very room watching a play, and was thrilled by it, so, I spoke to a friend on the phone about the play and he said he is going to see the person that directed it. I got the director’s email and sent her my recorded speech on Julius Caesar, but the next day, she replied, saying I got to learn a lot of things from the play,” he said.

    Did you read Hamlet, because what we have just seen is not the full production?

    “There are three version of the play; first version is about 4000 line, the second version is about 3000 and the third is within the middle of the first and second. The version we used to tour round the world, it is about two and half hours, so, what we have done is to take the poem and the speech from each version to make the production dynamic,” he confessed.

   As a Nigerian, who is doing something positive internationally, he feels very proud. His words, “to be honest, I’m relieved. I was nervous, very nervous. You know, you want so much for your country to enjoy the show and for them to have responded the way they responded was wonderful. Coming back to Nigeria? Definitely, I’d love to! Like I said to somebody else earlier, there’s an industry here that is on the rise and there are a lot of very exciting people who are coming to work. So, I’d love to work in Nigeria. Absolutely!”

How much is involved in this project?

  “It’s millions and millions of pounds,” he drew a long laugh.

   How would you assess Nollywood?

   “Nollywood is very big and don’t forget that it is the second biggest film industry across the globe. The industry is huge and I would like to work there,” he retorted.



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