Are we to be or not to be Hamlet?

Gavin Quinn‘s Pan Pan company first devised The Rehearsal, Playing the Dane in 2010. It has garnered considerable international touring recognition since then (deservedly) and has also gone through some developmental tweaking for its revival on the Abbey Stage. Several stalwart members of the company are still there, including Conor Madden, one of the original three possible Hamlets.

The format is a first half where three actors “audition” for the part, and the audience is asked to decide which will play that evening. On opening night at the Abbey, Madden won hands down against Anthony Morris and Fionn Walton. Morris gave an outraged, petulant boy interpretation, Walton a bullying gurrier. Madden “told” director Quinn he was unable to cool his performance, as an accident in an earlier performance had left him brain damaged and therefore unable to control his body, while a blind eye had left him with little spatial consciousness.

As before, it was a ploy. The performance of the tormented Prince showed little element of physical imbalance, nor of brain peculiarities other than the anguish of indecision. In fact, Madden‘s Hamlet, perhaps deliberately, is a shadow figure, an observer of his own tragedy, as scenes from his “history” are played out between an array of dustbins which become traps, or windows on the world, and even a series of Pandora‘s boxes in which ideas become buried, or set free from their interiors.

The result is that as we watch Hamlet on his own sidelines, we ourselves are forced into indecision: is the state of being worth it? Or is what we believe to be reality an ephemeral illusion? Above all, is the world without an ethical core?

And as the figures (including the director) collapse on each other at the play‘s end, we are left with a message of mockery: Shakespeare giving two fingers up to posterity.

Andrew Bennett makes an alarmingly steadfast Claudius (villain or hero? You decide) and the ghost; with Daniel Reardon as a mockingly placid Polonius, while Gina Moxley exudes a combination of sexiness and cynicism as Gertrude that almost seems to give the play a feminist element, a weird achievement in its own right. Six other women are listed in the cast, none of them familiar to me, so I don‘t know which of them played Ophelia. (I was unable to make with either the Abbey or Pan Pan at the time of writing: it may be democratic not to match cast members with their characters in a playlist, but it‘s bloody irritating.) She was damn good, too.

As always, Quinn and designer Aedin Cosgrove have pulled off a stimulating and thought-provokingly lopsided piece of theatre that asks as many questions as it answers. And the rather whimsically named Mr D‘Arcy – a stunningly beautiful Great Dane – manages almost to steal the show whenever he is led on. At least he‘s easy to identify.

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Sunday Indo Living