Interview: Paapa Essiedu | Living North

Interview: Paapa Essiedu


Paapa Essiedu
The highly-acclaimed actor will be reprising his 2016 star turn as Hamlet in the RSC’s production on tour in 2018, stopping off at Northern Stage on the way
'Each city has its own community and its own voice, and as performers it’s our responsibility to respond to that community'

Is it difficult to reprise the role, two years on?

I don’t know whether it’ll be easy or not, but it’s always a challenge. It’s challenging in many ways: it’s literally, physically challenging. Doing a play that lasts three-and-a-half hours eight times a week is hard. The first time I did it I lost about two stone. It’s a physical challenge and a psychological challenge, and a mental challenge maintaining your concentration all the time. It’s a challenge in all aspects.


Is there anything in your performance you want to bring out differently this time?

I don’t think anything in particular, but my biggest concern is not to just make it a rehash of what we did in 2016 – especially for myself. There’s a DVD of the production that got made, but I’ve never watched it. I’ve got it still in the plastic case and wrapping in the cupboard next to my bed, and I’ve never watched it for the express desire of not seeing something and saying: ‘Oh, I like that bit, I’ll do that again’ or ‘I don’t like that; I’ll change it.’


Do you not watch yourself back?

I hate watching myself back. I think a lot of actors are like that. I hate it, but this is a specific reason: because I knew I’d be coming back to it. 


You last played Hamlet in 2016 in Stratford only. Does touring change the dynamic of the play?

It makes you more tired! It’s exciting, because each city has its own community and its own voice, and as performers it’s our responsibility to respond to that community. Audiences in Newcastle will be different to audiences in Hull, who will be different to audiences in Plymouth. It’s our responsibility to react spontaneously to the differences.


What’s it like to take these productions outside of the south?

It was a really important thing for me, because we were all so proud of the work we created to begin with: the creative team and the cast were so proud of what we created. But we were frustrated with the fact that we were sharing it with only one audience – in Stratford-upon-Avon. It’s a beautiful place and the audiences there are fantastic, but we were so proud of it that we wanted to share it with as many people as possible. I think the RSC and the National Theatre – big companies like that – have a responsibility to take their productions to the people. We all know that not everyone can afford to get a train ticket down to Stratford or London, not everyone can pay for accommodation. It’s our responsibility, if we’re creating high-quality work, to share that with as many people as possible.


Do filmed productions change your performance? Do you take notice of the cameras filming you?

They tell you not to. They tell you to treat it just like another show. It is weird when you’ve got a camera on a huge crane zooming into your face. But yeah, I think you kind of get used to it. It’s important that you do, because for a lot of people that RSC Live version is going to be their only interaction with the production. For example, my girlfriend’s mum and all her mates watched it in a shed in the middle of Somerset, which I find hilarious and humbling. 


What role would you like to take on next?

I’ve done a lot of Shakespeare recently. I only graduated five years ago and I think I’ve done four or five Shakespeare productions, so I wonder if I might take a little step back from Shakespeare a bit and see if I can do anything else. But it’s got a special place in my heart. I’d love to do Benedick and King Lear.


The Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Hamlet will be at Hull New Theatre  from 13–17 February 2018 and at Northern Stage, Newcastle from 20–24 February 2018.

Published in: January 2018

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