Monthly Archives: January 2010

Spotlight: Dharmesh Patel, Actor

Dharmesh is starring in his first Shakespeare role as Hamlet in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Hamlet. He originally studied to become a Drama teacher and trained at the Hope Street Physical Theatre School. He has starred in the BBC Asian Network’s Silver Street and theatre including Happily Married, Silent Cry, and Satyagraha.

What performance of Hamlet can you remember having an impact of you?

The truth is I didn’t see a production of Hamlet until last year when I found out I was doing it. The first one I actually saw was with Jude Law. I didn’t enjoy it personally, it did nothing for me, but the rest of the audience loved it. For me he wasn’t dark enough and I really wanted my Hamlet to be dark. I was starting to be more critical of how I would play the character, so there was part of me that didn’t enjoy watching it as I knew that would be me in a couple of months. It made me more nervous because it was my first Shakespeare part and it was a big deal for me. I wish I could watch it again now.

You have been performing Hamlet in schools across London for young children. Are there any specific experiences that stood out?

In Lampton school in Hounslow we had a question and answer session, and one of the questions was: “Who do we think the villains are?” Early on one of the kids in a primary school went: “It’s Hamlet.” He then went onto say that because of him five people died. I remember being blown away and thinking that’s the kind of response I want. During the same session someone said Claudius, because he killed King Hamlet and his action infected the whole of Denmark. We don’t even say something as deep as that in rehearsals. If you think about what he said, he was ten years old, he knows that the death of a good kingdom was destroyed because of Old Hamlet’s death. Sometimes when we’re playing the character you don’t really think beyond the play, I was so in my own world that I never for once even thought about that.

What play have you seen recently that you would recommend?

I think it’s really important to watch bad theatre as well as good theatre. When I was growing up we were ridiculously poor and theatre was for the elite during the Thatcher days. I always feel like I missed out as an actor not being able to watch enough theatre as a kid and it was weird going to the theatre as an adult for the first time. Nowadays you get tickets for five pounds for under twenty-fives, there’s so many venues that do great ticket offers, and schools are doing more trips to the theatre. I would recommend seeing everything to a young person, but personally I like to watch bad theatre.

Are there any different obstacles facing black and ethnic minority actors?

For me the biggest obstacle I have is not being seen as an actor. You don’t want to be seen as a colour. It really pangs and hurts everytime. I want to be the best at what I do, and I’m sure every other person does regardless of what it is that they do. You often feel that what you’re being judged on isn’t your ability as an artist, you’re seen as a tick box, and you don’t know whether you’re good enough because of the colour of your skin or because of your ability. So now I don’t care about it, I’ve kind of given up on the whole colour thing because it sets you back. You want to better yourself whatever colour you are.

You starred in Silver Street on the BBC Asian Network. Do you think that specific Asian programs help or hinder progress?

It depends how it’s done. If it’s a poor job then of course it’s going to hinder it, if it’s a great job then who knows. But then if that’s what we’re showing to the rest of our society, is that a good thing or a bad thing? It’s a real catch-22 situation. I’ve seen some all-Asian casts where I was so disgusted that I walked out, but then you can say the same thing about any other play. It depends on how you do the piece of work, not the colour of your skin. I suppose it’s because I’m getting older and I’m starting to realise what my beliefs are and what’s worth fighting for I feel like that.

Hamlet joins the repertoire in The Courtyard Theatre from 1 May 2010.


Hamlet, at Claremont School

pull my finger...

It’s often forgotten amongst schoolchildren that Shakespeare is supposed to be seen live and not simply read. As a part of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Stand Up For Shakepeare campaign schools across London, including Kingsbury, Southall, Harrow, Wembley, and Hounslow, were treated to a performance of Hamlet and a drama workshop. In Claremont School, Kingsbury, this Hamlet virgin joined students aged eight to twelve years old, who were largely black and Asian, that were also watching Hamlet (or even theatre) for the first time.

The play is edited by Bijan Sheibani and directed by Tarell Alvin McCraney, winner of the Evening Standard’s Most Promising Playwright award. McCraney says: “Shakespeare is for all people. Hamlet is a great play to tour schools as it deals directly with young people and their families.” Here classic drama meets popular culture: Hamlet is cut to seventy minutes, has shortened soliloquies, snippets of Sam Sparro’s Black and Gold, and audience participation. This maybe the PG-rated Hamlet, but it is just as exciting. And Dharmesh Patel, with his boyish good looks and endless energy, creates a multifaceted Hamlet.

The main attraction, however, comes from the audience: the children. They reacted to the play more than the adults and remind us of Shakespeare’s accessibility, be it with their fascination at Hamlet’s “to be or not to be” speech or fear at the Ghost’s eerie presence. All of them offered their undivided attention and had nothing negative to say about the performance, which in turn challenges the argument that Shakespeare is for the elite or educated. Well now, if only we were all lucky enough to watch the RSC at school.

Joins the repertoire in The Courtyard Theatre from 1 May 2010.

To see or not to see: * * * *

Read a report in the March issue of Asian Woman magazine

Arabian Nights, at the Courtyard Theatre

phwoar, check out that bird

Corpses, mutilation, and snakes are enough to make anyone squeamish, but in this performance of Arabian Nights it was too much for one little girl who left the theatre crying. The Royal Shakespeare Company’s adaptation is full of violence, and should perhaps come with a warning for the younger demographic. It is, however, also full of magic, fun, and emotion, and is one of the finest productions from the company in the last year.

The play tells the tale of King Shahrayer who discovers his wife has been unfaithful and puts her to death, and from then on he declares the same fate for each new bride after just one night of marriage. Upon hearing this Shahrazad marries the King and each night she tells him a story in hope of staying another night and saving the women of Baghdad.

Dominic Cooke previously adapted and directed the play for the Old Vic back in 1998, but now post 9-11 it is difficult to ignore how the violence and sexism has a greater resonance. “Your trick is working”, says the King about Shahrazad’s storytelling. Cooke’s women are resourceful rather than crafty, they are resolving situations rather than resorting to violence. And our heroine Shahrazad, played by Ayesha Dharker, embodies this perfectly: she has a mix of beauty, with bambi eyes and childlike expressions, and boldness, entering the King’s palace and putting her life at risk.

Cooke and his cast successfully bring to life six of the Thousand and One Nights stories. Everything is larger-than-life: the actors in 40 Thieves maneuver themselves from riding across the stage to becoming a tight cave in a second, the elaborate puppetry in Ed-Sindibad conveys the most exotic animals, and even the extended fart gag in Abu-Hassan echoes across the theatre.

With its touch of Bollywood melodrama and Shakespearean romance, from families reuniting to father and daughter relationships, this is a delightful show for adults and children (the little girl did manage to return during the interval). The Royal Shakespeare Company is on top form.

Runs till 30 January.

To see or not to see: * * * * *