On the road with Ashleigh Weir (Guildenstern)

When the cast weren't drinking glühwein or watching Black MirrorVANESSA UPTON

ETG (European Theatre Group) was amazing. Whether we were performing a sell-out show at a ramshackle monastery (which, from a completely non-superstitious perspective, was DEFINITELY haunted), exploring Brussels or discovering a love of glühwein at a Christmas market on a bitterly cold Swiss winter morning, there was never a dull moment. But then again, I guess that’s to be expected when you’re spending such an intense amount of time with such a dynamic and passionate group of people.

One of my favourite things about the tour was definitely the people. Not just the cast and crew, but the hosts and schoolchildren who accommodated us, watched us perform and took part in the workshops we ran. We were lucky enough to stay with a myriad of very different host families over the course of tour. Unfortunately some of the cities in which we performed we didn’t get time to explore. However, by virtue of us staying with these families – whose sheer exuberance and hospitality was really quite humbling – we were still afforded a flavour of everyday life there. We tasted traditional regional home cooking, were allowed insight into their family dynamics and routines, and discussed in detail everything from politics (imagine trying to explain measuredly the incentives of a Brexit you didn’t vote for…) to Netflix (I hold my Montreux host solely responsible for my Black Mirror addiction). 

Being in Europe over the festive period was another highlight – and I’m not just talking about Christmas! We also enjoyed freshly baked ‘grittibaenz’ in Bern for St. Nick’s day, and smashed chocolate cauldrons filled with marzipan veg to mark ‘L’Escalade’ in Geneva. It really was a fantastic time to visit Europe.

Behind the scenes with Catja Hamilton

"One stage was octagonal, one was twice the size of any other stage we performed on, and our London performance was done on a thrust stage"VANESSA UPTON

Being Lighting Designer for the 2016 ETG tour of Hamlet was a unique, at times challenging, but ultimately very rewarding experience. As an English Literature student, being faced with Hamlet was initially quite a daunting prospect, but both the play itself and Emma’s interpretation of it soon sparked ideas of how to go about coming up with a design.

Aside from the usual process of creating a lighting design for a show, Hamlet also brought with it its own challenges. Coming up with the design itself was more difficult than usual, as each of the six venues we visited during the course of the tour had varying power capabilities, and were entirely different shapes and sizes – one stage was octagonal, one was twice the size of any other stage we performed on, and our London performance was done on a thrust stage. The design I eventually produced therefore had to be very flexible to ensure that it would be effective and atmospheric in each of our different venues. 

The staging of our production – set on a boat – encouraged me to think about enhancing the already claustrophobic atmosphere of the text. I played with rigging lights at different angles to create multiple shadows across the stage in order to intensify the dark, mysterious and at times ethereal atmosphere the text demands.  

It was, however, great fun, and the experience of being on tour – from staying with host families to exploring European cities, and being part of a show which has been seen by schoolchildren across Switzerland and Belgium – was definitely worth the challenge.

On stage with Ed Limb (Laertes)

"All the teachers I spoke to considered this Hamlet to be one of the strongest ETG productions"VANESSA UPTON

In this year’s ETG production I played Laertes, the soldier turned avenger. In contrast to the pensive and unpredictable Hamlet, Laertes is all action and sincerity. Since we only had one scene where Polonius, Ophelia and Laertes interact before Hamlet starts rocking the boat, it was vital that we conveyed the love and humour in their relationships so that Laertes’ grief is compelling. To that end, original songs knitted the play together and clearly established dynamics. Their inclusion was one of several bold decisions made that infused new life into this most famous play, without compromising its integrity.

Another decision was the casting of Horatio, Guildenstern and Rosencrantz as female, which brought into relief the role of patriarchs like Polonius and Claudius, and the machismo that Laertes represents – and Hamlet wrestles with. The setting of the play on a ship offered a neat metaphor for the claustrophobia of the court, and Claudius’ attempts to steer the state through choppy waters. 

But there was far more to it than clever ideas, and we worked hard to nail the basics of character and verse-work. Performances aside, the company’s direction and design created an experience readily accessible to audiences largely composed of foreign schoolchildren. Indeed, all the teachers I spoke to considered this Hamlet to be one of the strongest ETG productions. This was my third, and it was thrilling to see how it improved as a tour. The itinerary was intense enough to be satisfying, but not exhausting, and responsibilities were divided evenly among the company, producing mutual respect. Being involved with ETG has been a delight and a privilege, and I can’t wait to bring Hamlet to the ADC stage.

ETG finishes its tour of Hamlet at the ADC, Tue 17th January - Sat 21st January