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.