Shakespeare's Globe Theatre stages Hamlet in squalid Calais migrant camp

The Globe theatre company took Hamlet to Calais on Wednesday, bringing one of Shakespeare's best-known plays to an audience that almost certainly would rather see it in his native country.

'Life in here is very bad. We need refreshment,' says audience member

Actors from Shakespeare's Globe Theatre perform Hamlet for migrants at the Good Chance Theatre Tent in France's Jungle refugee camp in Calais on Wednesday. (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

"This, above all, to thine own self be true."

The words from Shakespeare's Hamlet rang out on the most unlikely stage on Wednesday, a squalid migrant camp in the northern French port of Calais, known locally as the "jungle."

The audience of migrants from the Middle East to Africa would almost certainly have preferred to see London's renowned Globe theatre company perform the Bard's famous play in his native country on the other side of the English Channel.

Yet, up to 300 people bundled against the cold wind to watch the outdoor show on a wooden stage beside the small Good Chance theatre, set up last fall to help fill the void for the displaced camp residents of the sprawling camp.

Hamlet in the refugee camp

6 years ago
Duration 2:24
Globe Theatre's touring production will perform Hamlet for migrants in Calais

Joe Murphy, one of Good Chance's artistic directors, said Hamlet's message resonates in the grimness of Calais.

"Hamlet is about a man who is confused, in doubt, who is contemplating life, who is contemplating death, who is in the middle of a decision ... And this is the situation and the reality for many young men in the camp," he said.

"There are many young kids here without their families and they are experiencing exactly what this play is about," Murphy said, referring to Hamlet whose father was killed.

Most of the people in the audience appeared unfamiliar with Shakespeare and the powerful story of the Danish prince, but they cheered and laughed as the actors braved the cold, too, for the performance. Synopses were handed out in English and a handful of other languages, including Farsi and Pashtun.

Life in here is very bad. We need refreshment. For two hours I can forget everything, except feeling cold.- Filmon Kidane

Some in the crowd were schooled in Shakespeare, however, and happy to see a stage performance of what they had only read.

"Shakespeare, he's a great author," said Filmon Kidane, a 27-year-old Eritrean who said he has spent six months in the camp.

"Life in here is very bad. We need refreshment. For two hours I can forget everything, except feeling cold."

The performance may be among the boldest shows by the Globe in its worldwide tour that began nearly two years ago on the 450th anniversary of the Bard's birth and ends back home in Britain this April on the 400th anniversary of his death.

Migrants come to Calais in hopes of sneaking to England, an increasingly difficult task as authorities step up security around the port and the Eurotunnel.

The Globe included refugee camps on its world tour after being unable to take Hamlet to Syria, a country in the midst of a civil war. Instead, it brought the performance to a huge refugee camp in Jordan that houses Syrians. Millions of people have fled Syria and many are among the more than 4,000 living in Calais.

"Refugee camps have become part of the tour," Thomas Bird, the Globe's executive producer, said in an interview with The Associated Press.

"There's a lot of boredom here as well as a lot of need, and so we can give two hours of entertainment," Bird said.

Bird said the company tried to provide an experience that wouldn't require any previous knowledge about Shakespeare, adding that Hamlet "is a very adaptable piece of work."

Migrants are seen walking through the makeshift camp in Calais in January. (Michel Spingler/Associated Press)


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