Welcome to the first in a series of interviews with Helen Lawson, director of A Summer Hamlet, the Globe’s first documentary film that records what went on backstage during the 2011 touring production of Hamlet.
The film will next be shown at the Shakespeare Film Festival in Stratford Upon Avon on 24 October.
This post will cover the background to the project’s inception. The subsequent weeks will look at: the cast and play, technical and creative choices and Helen’s hopes for the future of the film.
Helen, How did you get into directing?
I started out working in music, and got into film when I began directing and editing behind-the-scenes documentaries for musicians on tour, in the studio, on video shoots. I then started doing similar work for theatre companies, with Dusthouse (the production company). A Summer Hamlet is our first feature-length documentary.
How did this project come about?
Dusthouse’s Chris McGill and I had suggested the idea of shooting behind the scenes on the previous tour, and though that didn’t happen, the Globe came back to us the following year and said they were up for shooting the entire tour. It all came together pretty quickly – Chris and I had a phone conversation on Wednesday, I met Dominic on the Thursday, we had a pre-production planning meeting on the Friday and on Monday we were in Margate, shooting behind the scenes at the dress rehearsal, just before the opening performance of the tour!
Did you know Hamlet before you started the film?
By coincidence it was the Shakespeare play I knew best, as I’d seen three different productions of it in the year before the tour. I’d studied it at school too, but I don’t think I knew it any better than the average A-level student. By the end of the tour though, I knew it almost too well – I was pretty much thinking in lines from Hamlet!
You don’t really see any of the actual performances of Hamlet, why did you choose not to show it?
We decided early on not to show performances – I loved this production of Hamlet, but for the film I was interested in what goes on backstage. It’s rare to get a glimpse into what goes on in the moments before an actor becomes a character. I wanted to show the experience of an actor making that switch – how different it can be from one actor to the next, and from one performance to the next. Dominic (Artistic Director of the Globe) and I were both keen that it should be about actors, not about the play. An audience watching the film should feel something similar to an audience at the theatre – what happens beyond the curtain still remains a bit mysterious, it’s just that in this film we’ve switched sides.
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