Frequently Asked Questions: To be or not to be, etc

The Street Theatre. 13 Jul 2012

To be or not to be? Just one of the frequently asked questions three New Zealanders have undertaken to answer on behalf of the troubled Dane, or at the very least explore in this absurdist “one-man” show.

Written and directed by Natalie Medlock and Dan Musgrove and co-written and performed by veteran thespian Michael Hurst (an accomplished performer of Shakespeare’s works but also well known for his appearances in Hercules and Xena: Warrior Princess), this show is best described as a reality check for Shakespeare’s most tragic male leads.

Set in the Shakespearean afterlife, the evening begins with a sleepless, mirthless Hamlet coming home to his dingy flat to find a script detailing his demise. This discovery triggers some neurotic, late night contemplation, as he sets out to answer some of his infamous (and not so infamous) frequently asked questions.

Pacing the room with a pistol to his head – Hamlet’s musings are interrupted by none other than a menacing, roguish Macbeth to boot his angst-ridden arse (think Billy Connelly), a dithering King Lear and Othello the jilted lover (joined by Desdemona, Ophelia and a teeny Juliet), who have come to join Hamlet in examining their ill-fated lives and thereby facilitate Hamlet’s existential probing.

After ending up in fisticuffs with a the provocative Macbeth (who feels he would make a stronger, sexier Hamlet), enduring King Lear’s senile moaning and watching Othello’s female companions drop like flies in his lounge room, Hamlet banishes them from his flat so that he can inevitably face the task of dying.

Hurst is a masterful in his multiple roles, drawing on a seemingly bottomless bag of tricks from many years of performing Shakespeare’s work (the play is semi-autobiographical) to create one brilliant spectacle. He shifts from one character to the next deftly, despite the sharp distinctions between the four leading men, and also displayed some uproarious physical comedy – complete with almost acrobatic tumbling and a touch of spittle flying.

As well as viewing Shakespeare’s characters and their foibles through a modern satirical lens, there are still enough flecks of his darker writing spattered among the tongue in cheek references to the originals to showcase the incredible range in Hurst’s repertoire. His intensity really had the audience on the edge of their seats, hanging on every unpredictable, highly projected word.

Hats off to the show’s creators for an energetic and highly intelligent production that sculpts a clever comedy out of tragedy. The writing is nothing short of magnificent, and the execution really packs the punch.

Deborah Hawke

When: 11 to 21 July
Where: The Street Theatre
Bookings: patronbase.com