This month Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre are returning to Cambridge for another of their trademark stripped-down, Elizabethan-costume, open air productions, in association with Cambridge Arts Theatre. This time around their performing perhaps the greatest of all Shakespeare plays (the greatest play in theatrical history?) in the stunning surroundings of the Fellows’ Garden at King’s College. Yes, you guessed it, it’s not Footloose The Musical, it’s Hamlet. And taking on the principal role as the Prince of Denmark is Michael Benz, who readers of a certain age may just remember from early 90s kids’ TV programme Mike and Angelo, about a boy and an alien…
How long have you been involved with the Globe Theatre?
“I actually got my first job with the Globe when I was at drama school, with a production of The Winter’s Tale. I went in to audition for the part of Florizel, which is the young lover’s part, but then they asked me to read for Paulina, which is usually played by an older woman! And they offered me that part, so my first job ever with the Globe was actually playing Paulina in a frock going round the UK, which must have been the best first job ever!”
What is it about the Globe that appeals to an actor specifically?
“The Globe itself – the building – is so warm, and everyone there is on your side from the very beginning. They’re such an excited audience. The difference with other theatres is that the people who are actually closest to the stage are the groundlings, who have paid the least to be there, where usually it’s the other way round. And I think that gives it a different energy. And because there’s no artificial lighting or sound, the space really demands that you focus on the language rather than any kind of concept. The outdoor venues we’re doing, including in Cambridge – I think it’s exactly the same kind of thing.”
What are the particular challenges of open air theatre?
“Well from a purely technical point of view it’s definitely volume and confidence, which is what a drama school does for you I suppose! And then there can be the weather, but there’s something really special about bad weather, the wind and the rain, that gets an audience together as a merry group, battling it all together. The other night we did a show and the weather was so bad, but not a single person left, and by the end of it we were all cheering each other!”
Is it in any way a daunting prospect playing Hamlet? Or simply exciting?
“It’s both. It was suggested to me that the best thing was not to think about all the different people who have played it before, as you’re talking about the greatest names ever to bless the stage. So I think the best thing to do, that they suggested to me, is just to think of it afresh, as if it was written two weeks ago, and do your own take on it. Otherwise you tend to drive yourself a little bit mad.”
What are the aspects of the role that you find most compelling?
“When I started work on it, the thing for me that came out most of all is the fact that he is a young man in grief, only two months after the father that he loved so desperately died. I started with Hamlet looking through the prism of grief and trauma in everything that he’s thinking and feeling.”
What are your memories of working on Mike and Angelo when you were just a kid?
“It was greatI had the time of my life – I did it for six years. What was funny about doing it though, was that when I was on set I’d come in every week wanting to be something else – I’d want to be an astronaut, or a doctor or the President of the United States. But I didn’t look at acting as something I necessarily wanted to do, certainly not theatre!”
The Globe On Tour: Hamlet, Wed 4-Sun 8 July, 19:30 (also Thurs and Sun 14:00). Cost: £18.50. The Fellows’ Garden, King’s College (entrance via Queen’s Road). For tickets T: 01223 503333 or www.cambridgeartstheatre.com