Jeffery Kissoon on Directing Hamlet
Legendary actor Jeffery Kissoon talks to us about Shakespeare and directing Britain's first all-black cast of Hamlet for the Black Theatre Live consortium..
What can audiences look forward to in this adaptation of Hamlet?
Audiences can look forward to seeing a vibrant and energetic contemporary production that is true to Shakespeare's story but will feature a thought-provoking concept that will hopefully resonate around an historical experience of black people in an imaginative way. The all-black notion of this production is not just a black cast but also a black creative team which is rare and is turning out to be a particularly exciting experience. We have a wonderful cast and crew and the creative elements are beautiful and explosive. It's fantastic to be working with so much young black talent in front of and behind the scenes.
Classical theatre in the UK is often criticized for its lack of ethnic diversity, but this year saw two major Shakespeare productions (Hamlet at the RSC and King Lear at the Royal Exchange) with predominantly BAME casts. Are attitudes beginning to change?
Of course, it is great to see BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) artists being given the opportunities to participate in major productions such as those you mention. I think the position we ought to be aiming at is a situation where it is not significant that these casting decisions warrant discussion. Ultimately, theatre is about telling stories and one's race, culture, gender and mobility should not determine the telling of stories but should and can be explored by anyone.
2016 marks the quarter-centenary of Shakespeare’s death. Why do you think his work endures and what makes Hamlet, in particular, so special?
The more I look at Shakespeare the more he blows my mind. The words he's given to any actor interested in being the conveyor of amazing characters, placed in incredible situations with language that somehow originates in the soul reaches across all time and place.
Hamlet is a remarkable work for a play written so long ago. It is as universal as a play gets, exploring almost all the fundamental human emotions and experience. It has dark themes, tackling life and death and certainly explores deep psychological anxieties through love and loss. And yet it does all this in an almost realist way through the social political circumstances that the young Hamlet finds himself trapped in. Hamlet can be performed in any situation, in any culture at any time and this is what makes this play remarkable.