TOM DALDRY of Theatre Nation tells HIP about this production

Patrick Kealey (Artistic Director) and myself (Writer/Producer) initiated Theatre Nation last summer. A(nother) theatre company, a local one; one that aspires to professional excellence. Clichéd as that may sound, it is fair to say that Hastings’ theatre scene has been imperilled by a lack of infrastructure: a lack of funding, resources and personnel. But one has to start somewhere: one has to create the conditions one wants to work in, and one can choose to be positive about possibility and potential.

We decided to start with Hamlet. Helping to produce and direct one of the greatest plays in the English language is quite the challenge, especially in fringe conditions. About six jobs are shared between Patrick and myself. But it’s an exhilarating challenge. We are incredibly proud not just of our hugely talented actors, but of our gifted production team – all of whom have dedicated an enormous amount to the project.

I recall the moment Patrick decided to cast Emily Carding as Hamlet. We saw her one-woman Richard III in Rye, and it blew us both away. After her performance he approached her and asked if she’d be interested. She said yes.

Left to Right, Sean Mclevy, Patrick Kealey,
Elizabeth McNally, Matt Hastings,
Sabina Arthur

That was almost a year ago. We’ve spent the last six months setting preparatory work into motion. Cutting down the script (runtime: just over 2 hours), with certain heart-breaking necessities. Amongst them is an entire subplot concerning Fortinbras – a Norwegian Prince, who is hell-bent on reclaiming Norway’s lost territories, and who is Hamlet’s foil. His absence creates a production that focuses intently and intentionally on the claustrophobic family dynamic within Denmark’s royal court – where Hamlet is set.

We’ve also been busy with more practical affairs. Applying for funding (we were delighted to be awarded an Arts Council grant), casting and recasting (due to illness) and contacting venues to set-up a small-scale tour (Bexhill College, Rye Creative Centre and Printers Playhouse).

It’s an ambitious project. We’ve been rehearsing from late-January. Our small studio space (located in an industrial estate) is a site for resurrected ghosts, duels, faux and for-real madness. I’ve watched Patrick bring actors to their creative edge. Butoh elements have been choreographed by Yumino Seki – who plays the ghost. And our neighbours (Blacksmiths & Furniture Makers) have been central in solving set-design practicalities. The piece aims to walk a tightrope across St Mary in the Castle. Metaphorically, that is.

As Patrick consistently asks of the project: why Hamlet? Why here? Why now? The play is a startling exercise in the expression of toxic masculinity: within the play, female agency only exists in servility to aggressive male power. On her husband the King’s death, Gertrude can only remain Queen if she marries her brother-in-law. Ophelia is a pawn for her civil servant father’s political ends.

Having a female actor play Hamlet creates interesting resonances in a time when patriarchal power structures are increasingly deconstructed and questioned. But it’s also a statement of intent. Our micro-tour of Hamlet is a drive to create a long-term professional, touring theatre ensemble in Hastings & St Leonards. It’s ambitious for a reason, and we’re starting here.

Hamlet is showing from 21st-24th February (St Mary in the Castle), 28th February-3rd March (Rye Creative Centre), 8th-9th March (Printers Playhouse) Book via Theatre Nation and see Facebook for more information