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McGregor Backs Factory’s Improv Hamlet at Globe

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The Factory Hamlet, the underground hit whose biggest backer is screen star Ewan McGregor (pictured), celebrates its first birthday this weekend with a midnight matinee on Saturday (6 September 2008) at Shakespeare’s Globe.

The one-off performance at the Globe kicks off a week of more public engagements for the production, normally staged weekly at secret locations across London. Company members will perform at the Regent Street Festival (7 September) and Hampstead Theatre (13 September), in addition to nightly runs at a variety of underground venues on 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 and 14 September.

While McGregor is not scheduled to appear, at the Globe, the regular troupe of 25 to 30 Factory actors will be joined by an “excepted special guest”, an as-yet unnamed Hollywood actor, on Saturday night.

All Factory actors are well drilled on Shakespeare’s verse, and have memorised at least three parts each, but they don’t know which they’ll play before arriving for a show or how exactly it will be played. At the beginning of the evening, the audience decides on casting through rounds of paper-scissor-stone. The public also contribute the props and are encouraged to bring as many off-the-wall items as possible. There is no set.

“The whole point is to have no boundaries,” Factory producer Liam Evans Ford explained to Whatsonstage.com. “Lots of wonderful unique moments are born out of these one-off situations, but the actors always play for the truth of the story.”

The Globe midnight matinee comes one year after the first secret performance of Hamlet to a small invited audience of Facebook friends. As word spread, the company decided to perform every Sunday but at a different location each week, revealed on the internet only days before. Spaces have ranged from the County Hall council chamber to an underpass in Hammersmith, accommodating audience sizes from 30 to 300.

Along the way, the Factory acquired some big-name fans and participants, including Ewan McGregor, Rufus Sewell and Kathryn Hunter as well as Shakespeare’s Globe artistic director Dominic Dromgoole, who invited them to perform at the Bankside landmark.

The Factory was founded by actors Tim Evans and Alex Hassell, who, according to Evans Ford, were “fed up with the way actors have very little say in their profession and little opportunity to practice their craft with one another”. With Hamlet in particular, they wanted to see if it was possible to “produce a hit show with no money, no advertising, no theatre and no discernible touring schedule”.

The Factory also runs regular non-Hamlet acting jam sessions and new writing workshops. With no public subsidy, it’s now aiming to raise up to £90,000 independently to fund a regular rehearsal space and the continuation of the Hamlet programme.

Hamlet is directed by Tim Carroll, who was an associate director at the Globe from 1999 to 2005, with Tamara Harvey and Louis Scheeder.

- by Terri Paddock


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