BWW Interview: Buom Tihngang Talks HAMLET Tour

BWW Interview: Buom Tihngang Talks HAMLET Tour
Buom Tihngang and Clarence Smith
in Hamlet

The Royal Shakespeare Company's revival of Hamlet enters its final weeks of UK performances, before heading across the pond to play to US audiences.

Last week, we spoke to James Cooney about returning to the production after two years. This week, newcomer Buom Tihngang spoke to us about joining the show, taking on the role of Laertes, and his favourite moments on and offstage.

What was your first experience with theatre?

I think it was probably when I was at school. I'm not entirely sure what the play was, but I remember playing an Indian character with a was pretty awful! My Mum came to see it and yes, it was really awful!

But it was so much fun, and I loved the characterisation and creativity. I remember being so nervous that people were seeing me on the stage for the first time. But being up there and being in front of those people gave me a weird confidence, which I think has carried me forwards today.

Did you always want to be an actor?

My journey with acting is unique, actually. I did Economics at university and I was on route to become a financial analyst. And one year, I decided to audition for drama school because it had always been something I wanted to do. But my parents were quite traditional in the sense that they always wanted their son to get a "normal" job, something which was quite stable.

So it wasn't something that I ever saw as a possibility of pursuing, until I went to university and actually saw people like the Acting Society. And so I thought I'd give it a go myself. You know, it had always been a thing within me. I've always loved telling stories in that medium, not just through acting, but dance and movement.

So I went to Drama Centre and then I actually left early, at the end of my second year. And since then, I've been really, really blessed with the opportunities I've had. But it's a daunting world, because I guess drama school doesn't necessarily prepare you for the reality of the world. You're kind of in a bubble and when you do come out, it's a lot more daunting than you do expect.

When we spoke to James Cooney last week, he said the RSC was a good training ground, for testing and honing your skill. Coming straight from drama school, have you found that too?

Absolutely, it absolutely is.

BWW Interview: Buom Tihngang Talks HAMLET Tour
The Company of Hamlet

Our rehearsal process was actually very, very quick. So it taught me to come extremely prepared and to hit the ground running. We had time for exploration, but we did have to be very bold with our choices and very specific quite early on.

And I also think what the RSC has given me so far is an extreme ethic. You do work very hard and you do do very long hours, so it gives you a good work ethic. And it makes you make choices quite quickly and stick to them. Obviously, you should be open and free to change them.

And everyone is coming to it so openly. I think 80% of the company is new here. So it hasn't really felt as if you're joining an already working machine. It feels completely new and it's completely different to the original production. So everything is new to everyone, in some respects.

Can you think of a particular choice which you made early on during the rehearsal process?

So at the very start of the play, my character Laertes has a clear objective: get back to France. No one really knows why though and that's very much up to the actor, their interpretation as to why he wants to go back.

So I thought...well, this is actually quite a funny choice, bold but funny! I thought that in his bag, he would have lots of condoms.

Well, it's definitely bold!

It's bold, but it made it into the show! We got there in the end!

There were some other things in his bag and that I wanted to do, which didn't make it. But that did. So keep an eye out for those unraveled condoms - they will definitely make an appearance in the second scene!

BWW Interview: Buom Tihngang Talks HAMLET Tour
Mimi Ndiweni and Joseph Mydell
in Hamlet

Speaking of Laertes, how did you connect to this character?

So in a lot of productions of Hamlet which I've seen before, Laertes has been depicted as a man of anger when he returns. But the thing that drew me to the character was his love of his family.

And the circumstances that he's in are very similar to the circumstances that I have in my life. Even though it's his dad raising him, my mum has raised me single-handedly.

And I have sisters, so that kind of idea of being the older brother and essentially the second man of the house, that's always been something that I can definitely connect with.

Your character famously disappears for half the show, when he heads back off to France. How do you spend that time?

So I'm offstage for a while, I don't have to do any other characters, which is quite nice. In fact, what that allows me to do is relax. Then in the interval, that's when I warm back up again to make sure my voice and everything is in check.

I'm quite a physical actor, so I like to do physical things backstage. And then I spend about ten minutes really just gathering my thoughts. Because when I re-enter, the stakes are very, very high: I'm coming for answers and to get my dead father and understand what has happened to him.

Speaking of offstage, have you had any funny or memorable behind the scenes moments with the cast?

There's one which is not so much offstage, but it appropriate to say? Okay, well I won't mention their name.

I think it was in Northampton and during the final climactic scene...a certain person farted onstage. And it was probably the funniest moment I have ever encountered onstage! I had to really, really hold myself.

Oh dear! Well, the body count does rise in that last scene. So if they were a dead body, that's fine (because they do pass gas after death).


I mean it's a great acting choice: really bold.

Yes...except unfortunately, the character wasn't dead! He was very much alive!

So you've been to Northampton and a number of other UK cities, and are now playing in London. What does touring offer you as an actor?

BWW Interview: Buom Tihngang Talks HAMLET Tour
Paapa Essiedu, Esther Niles
and Buom Tihngang in Hamlet

Well it's like you said before, about the RSC providing good training. These different venues provide quite literally different training grounds.

Performing in these spaces really improves your technique, and makes you very aware as an actor of what you need to commit to tell the story. That's in terms of your breath, your voice, your positioning, really a lot.

And with different audiences, they react to different things which keeps you on your toes. Like with London, we had our first night and it felt like the audience were really, really getting Laertes from my very first scene and understanding those family dynamics.

I have a line where I warn Ophelia about staying away from Hamlet and keeping her "chaste treasure [away from] his unmaster'd importunity". And they really got that.

Finally, how do you think the show resonates with audiences today?

Well, I really felt like the show resonated with London and Manchester. Those are both really diverse places, and it's spoken to different ethnic groups.

It's also realising that as ethnic actors, we are in a transitional phase at the moment. I think that I feel this inclusivity and recognition of different cultures is extremely important, especially at a time where there's a lot of trouble in the world.

We should absolutely bring these issues to the forefront and make sure people are heard. Because I feel for too long we have been in the background. Our stories have been there and have been just as interesting, but they just haven't been told.

So I think it's so important for everyone to see that: from young kids growing up, to people who want to become actors, to see that their stories are available and are there and are rich.

Hamlet at the Hackney Empire until 31 March, then transferring to the Kennedy Center, Washington USA

Photo credit: Manuel Harlan

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