Hamlet, Black Theatre Live

Presented in English   

Billed as Britain's first all-black Hamlet, Black Theatre Live's production was set in Denmark, a Black Empire of modern England, where an intelligent young student discovers the world he once knew has crumbled. Dramaturg Mark Norfolk used Peter Brook's stripped back Hamlet as his textual blueprint to get to the heart of the play, expanding it with new text to better explore both Hamlet and the play's female characters.

Black Theatre Live
Directed by Jeffery Kissoon
Abridged with new text by Mark Norfolk.

Presented in association with Watford Palace Theatre and Stratford Circus Arts Centre.

Cast: Mark Ebulue, Joy Elias-Riwan, Trevor Laird, Patrick Miller, Offue Okegbe, Abiona Omonua, Victor Power, Theo Solomon, Raphael Sowole.

Creative team:
Cleo Harris-Seaton (set design)
Devante Benjamin (lighting design)
Jerrome Buck-Townsend (sound design)
Natalie Pryce (costume design)
Sebastian Russell (composer)
Casting by Jenkins McShane Casting.           

2016 Tour Dates and Locations:
September - November 2016, UK Tour

Watford Palace Theatre (September 14-17, 2016)
Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds (September 20-23, 2016)
Key Theatre, Peterborough (September 27-28, 2016)
Queen's Hall Arts Centre, Hexham (October 4-5, 2016)
Theatre Royal Margate (October 7-8, 2016)
Theatre Royal Windsor (October 10-15, 2016)
Lighthouse, Poole's Centre for the Arts (October 20-22, 2016)
Tara Theatre, London (October 25-29, 2016)
Stratford Circus Arts Centre, London (November 2-5, 2016)

Black Theatre Live is a pioneering national consortium of 8 regional theatres: Tara Arts (London), Derby Theatre, Queen’s Hall Arts (Hexham), Theatre Royal Margate, Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds, Key Theatre (Peterborough), Stratford Circus Arts Centre (London) and the Lighthouse (Poole). Collectively the theatres are committed to effecting lasting change for Black and Asian theatre through a concerted programme of commissions and touring; and audience and sector development.      

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Selected Reviews:
The Stage review (3 stars, Watford Palace performance):
"It’s long overdue, Hamlet with an all-black cast, and while Black Theatre Live’s production has a lot to like about it – including an interesting take on Gertrude – there is a lot of muddle too."" 

"There are major problems with the production as a whole, though. Inconsistency is an issue: it's all very trad, and set in some non specific time, until Hamlet uses a laptop towards the end. Cleo Harris-Seaton’s design turns Elsinore into a kind of church, with an illuminated crucifix centre stage and Claudius dressed like a pastor, but not to much avail.

Some really clunky and clumsy scene changes disrupt the flow, and a couple of performances border dangerously on outright hamminess. Although Mark Norfolk’s slightly reworked version of the text makes the essential story very clear, while keeping all the famous bits in the right places, Jeffrey Kissoon’s production, as a whole, needs tightening up."


The Times review (3 stars, Watford Palace performance):
"The first by an all-black cast in Britain, this Hamlet seethes with provocative ideas but needs to be tighter and nimbler"

"Mark Norfolk’s adaptation and Kissoon’s staging bring into collision ancient and modern, Africa and the west, in an Elsinore that is the capital of a powerful empire."

"Afrocentric theory and colonial history are obvious keynotes, although the production’s concept could be much more clearly defined. And there are some arrestingly potent moments: Miller’s Claudius submitting to a penitential flogging; the ragged Players — only two of them — who seem to be battle-ravaged ex-soldiers, the Player King slumped in a wheelchair sucking from a hip flask; mad Ophelia, dressed up like Marilyn Monroe in a blond wig, a piercing parody of tyrannous white ideals of female glamour. It’s by no means flawless, but it’s fresh and fiercely committed. "


A Younger Theatre feature, 'Black Theatre Live’s Hamlet, and why it matters to have all-black theatre':

"Earlier this year, Warwick University launched an innovative online database, charting the Shakespearean roles played by Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic actors in the UK, from 1930 to the present day. Among other things, it revealed a disturbing trend; while the ambitious project showed clear growth in the number of BAME stage roles in recent years, many of those roles tended to be confined to ‘second tier’ or supporting parts, rather than lead roles. A quick search of the database shows that while 16 BAME actors have played Ophelia, and 16 her brother Laertes, just 8 have played Hamlet (including Paapa Essiedu, the first black actor to be cast in the role by the RSC, who won Best Performance in a Play at the UK Theatre Awards this year.) This sticks, but one touring company, Black Theatre Live, is out to make its mark on the statistics – and challenge ideas around both setting and casting decisions. Its production of Hamlet features not only an all-black cast, but crew, directing and production team too."


Funding and Sponsorship:
Black Theatre Live is supported using public funding by Arts Council England, the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, the John Ellerman Foundation and the Ernest Cook Trust

Photographer: Talulah Sheppard