VIRTUOSO PERFORMANCE EFFECTIVE BUT NOT AFFECTING
NO HOLDS BARD
By Michael Hurst, Natalie Medlock and Dan Musgrove
Performed by Michael Hurst
at Downstage Theatre, Wellington
From 16 May 2013 to 1 Jun 2013
Reviewed by Hannah Smith, 18 May 2013
Hamlet is a Danish ponce, Othello jiggles ladies on his knee, Macbeth would like to play Horatio, and King Lear wants a sandwich.
No Holds Bard, previously Frequently Asked Questions and even briefly Bard Day's Night, is as multifaceted in form as it has been in name. A post-modern mash up of Shakespearean verse and contemporary equivocation, it is a shining success as the vessel for an outstanding performance from Michael Hurst.
The show begins with Hurst, in caricatured Hamlet costume, standing front centre with a pistol to his head – should he do it, or not? Therein lies the question. What follows is a romp through Shakespeare's canon, with appearances from all the great tragic heroes. King Lear, Othello and Macbeth all weigh in with their penny's worth of advice for the young prince of Denmark.
While the material is going to have the greatest reward for those familiar with the plays, the texts drawn upon are pretty well known, and the jokes are not cerebral or obtuse. And, whether you're a Shakespeare buff or not, you should go to see Michael Hurst give a virtuoso performance. His technique is remarkable, the lift of an eyebrow, the pitch of voice, accent, tone and expression are utilised to snap him from character to character. His one-man fight is fantastic: back flips, chair rolls, hair pulls, and self-strangling; it is all there and draws appreciative oohs and aahs from the audience.
While Hurst is successful as all of the heroes (a doddering King Lear is mercifully brief) it is Macbeth who is an absolute standout. A rich brogue and a cheeky down to earth persona make him funny and appealing – not a lot like the Macbeth in the text, but then, probably the most likeable Macbeth to ever grace the stage.
Shakespeare's language gets to glow as well – as each of the major characters deliver their great soliloquies. Anger, terror, sorrow, regret, the stuff that plays are made of; Hurst conjures each with ease.
Ultimately, Hurst's performance outshines the script, which utilises fairly familiar techniques of Shakespeare/contemporary mashups and does not make clear the rules of the story-telling. There is something about the premise that precludes emotional connection – we watch exemplary technique by a masterful performer but are not asked to engage with a story or follow a character arc, so the individual speeches are effective but not affecting. Also, it misses a golden (and seemingly set up) opportunity to use the line from Macbeth “What you egg! Young fry of treachery!”
It is fantastic to hear that this show is travelling to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in August. There is a lot of potential in Medlock and Musgrove's script, and in Hurst they have a remarkable performer, so it bodes well for a great success.
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Sharu Delilkan (TheatreScenes - the Auckland Theatre Blog);
Barbara Frame (Otago Daily Times);