Hamilton star Shaq Taylor: 'this story is coming full circle when it comes back to Scotland'

Ahead of its run at the Festival Theatre in Edinburgh, Hamilton star Shaq Taylor talks to Joyce McMillan about the musical’s Scottish roots

It was nine years ago this week that Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical Hamilton first opened off Broadway, at the Public Theater in Lower Manhattan. Miranda himself played the leading role of Alexander Hamilton, one of the founding fathers of the United States; and the show – with its exhilarating range of contemporary music styles, notably hip-hop – achieved instant acclaim as one of the landmark theatre events of the new millennium.

The show transferred to Broadway later in 2015, and to London in 2017; and now, Hamilton finally makes its Scottish debut, at the Festival Theatre in Edinburgh, as part of a long UK tour. “In a sense, this story is coming full circle, when it comes back to Scotland,” says Shaq Taylor, the young London-based musical stage star who plays Hamilton in this production. “Hamilton’s family were Scottish, and we’re all looking forward to finding out more about those connections while we’re in Edinburgh.”

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In truth, though, part of what makes Alexander Hamilton’s story so compelling – and what inspired Lin-Manuel Miranda to transform it into a musical largely performed by young black and minority actors – is the sheer difficulty of Hamilton’s relationship with that Scottish inheritance. Along with his elder brother, Hamilton was born in the mid-1750s, on the Caribbean island of Nevis, to a woman who had left her husband, and struck up a relationship with James Hamilton, the fourth son of the laird of Grange in Ayrshire. James Hamilton soon left the family; and when Hamilton was barely into his teens, his mother died, leaving her two boys all but orphaned.

Yet Hamilton had received some education from private tutors, and become a voracious reader. Within a few years of his mother’s death, his exceptional abilities were already attracting attention; and in 1772, armed with a fund collected by the local minister and other community leaders, he arrived in New York to continue his education and literally never looked back, studying, networking, writing and debating, raising troops and fighting with distinction during the War of Independence which began in 1776, and becoming an aide-de-camp to George Washington himself, before going on to play a key role in founding the institutions of the United States.

And it’s this tale of Hamilton’s astonishing rise from difficult beginnings to the very pinnacle of American politics that drives and shapes Miranda’s musical, and also offers Taylor, as the show’s star, his own first point of connection with the story.

“I grew up in south London,” says Taylor, “in what wasn’t the most well-off area. And I think anyone who grew up in a place like that can identify with this story of someone who literally had nothing but his own intelligence and determination, and who used those skills to write and talk his way into a completely different life. When I was a kid, that was exactly what people in my community were doing – writing, and rapping, and using language to make themselves heard and to try to change things. That’s what Hamilton did, in those early years; and it’s what Lin-Manuel does in the musical.”

It’s almost a year since Taylor was first approached about the possibility of playing Hamilton, and nine months since he knew that he had won the role. Yet still, the whole massive UK touring production – featuring a cast of almost 40 performers – was put together in just six weeks last autumn, before its first run in Manchester.


“It is an interesting process,” says Taylor, “recreating a big musical so that it delivers the full experience, but with a completely different cast. What happens is that the whole physical side of the production is completely ready, before you go into rehearsal; the set, the costumes, the lighting, all of that, identical to the original production.

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“But then, you begin to work with your resident touring team on the dance, the moves, the performance; and if you’re lucky, some of the original creative team will also come into rehearsal. We were lucky, during rehearsals last autumn, to have input from the original director Thomas Kail, the choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler, and Alex Lacamoire, who created the musical and orchestral arrangements. And that was great.”

Hamilton arrives in Scotland, of course, at a moment when both the world of theatre, and the very idea of the United States embodied in the show, are facing a perfect storm of crises. Hamilton has been controversial from the outset for its sky-high ticket prices, in New York and beyond. A standard ticket for a Festival Theatre performance will set you back £99.50, although cheaper rates are available; and no-one is unaware of the irony of a show about a history-changing revolution playing to an audience which, almost by definition, represents those with most to lose from any future revolutionary change.

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And in this US election year, the very idea of the United States as a beacon of liberty, equality and democracy – founded on the principles Hamilton helped to articulate – seems as fragile as at any time in its history, as Joe Biden and Donald Trump vie for the presidency, white supremacism continues to haunt American politics, and more than half the world rebels in disgust against US double standards in Gaza and elsewhere.

Yet so far, the sheer energy and exuberance of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical seems to have enabled it to steer round all of these shoals of doubt, and to recapture a sense of the American dream at its most dynamic and inclusive.

“It’s a story of a revolution,” says Taylor, “of people coming together for a common cause, fighting for what is right, fighting for freedom, and peace of mind. It’s also an emotional rollercoaster of a story. And I think because everyone is fighting for something in their lives, audiences really do engage with that.”

Hamilton is at the Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, from 28 February until 27 April, www.capitaltheatres.com