TSB Arena, Queens Wharf, Wellington

24/02/2012 - 28/02/2012

New Zealand International Arts Festival 2012

Production Details


“The innovation and cheek were non-stop.” The Financial Times (UK)

The TV3 Season of Pan Pan’s irreverent riff on Hamlet doesn’t so much update or deconstruct the play as explode it.

Innovative, witty and engaging, the first half of The Rehearsal, Playing the Dane is staged as an audition. Would-be Hamlets interpret the lead, attempting to impress the director and the audience with their unique takes on Shakespeare’s troubled prince. In yet another twist, a canine Great Dane takes to the stage. Who is going to be, or not to be, Hamlet? Can anyone escape playing the ‘Great’ Dane?

In the second half of the play, the stage is a hall of mirrors. The play-within-a-play, enacted by a troupe ofWellingtonschoolboy actors, is Hamlet itself.

Visually stunning, The Rehearsal, Playing the Dane was the winner of Best Production and Best Set Design at the 2010 Irish Times Theatre Awards and was unanimously awarded the Critics’ Choice as Best Show in the Ulster Bank Dublin Theatre Festival, 2010.

Ireland’s Pan Pan Theatre was formed in 1991. The company has developed a unique aesthetic, exploring new forms, approaches and experiments with time, space, music and performance. Pan Pan’s recent productions include a Mandarin-language adaptation of Synge’s The Playboy of the Western World in Beijing and a musical take on a familiar myth in Oedipus Loves You.

Interactive and audacious, Pan Pan’s The Rehearsal, Playing the Dane will be relished by both Shakespeare aficionados and novices alike.

The TV3 Season of The Rehearsal, Playing the Dane is
at TSB Bank Arena
from 24 to 28 February
Tickets $38 – $68 available from Ticketek. 

Rehearsal proves a tasty Ham(let) sandwich

Review by Ewen Coleman [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 26th Feb 2012

Shakespeare gets more of an airing at this year’s International Arts Festival than probably any previous Festival. Yet few productions have or will present his plays quite like Pan Pan Theatre Company from Ireland, particularly in their take on his most famous play Hamlet, Prince of Demark.

On a longitudinal stage with mirrors at each end and with a large flag ofDenmarkpainted on the floor,VictoriaUniversityacademic Harry Rickett’s delivers very eloquently a treatise on the instability of Shakespeare’s text and language all the while trying to control a large Great Dane he has on a leash. This then becomes the basis of which the theatre company deconstructs, or rather, reconstructs Shakespeare’s play.

He then joins director of Pan Pan Theatre Company, Gavin Quinn, and two assistants in their quest to find a Hamlet.

Three actors are chosen and called forward to audition.  First there is Derrick Devine, who, having first stripped off his shirt, gives a very intense interpretation of Hamlet. Then Conor Madden gives a very physical rendition, but is told he is “holding back”. Finally Bush Moukarzel steps forward and inserts a piece from Samuel Beckett’s Endgame, asHamm into his audition.

At the end of this the audience is invited up on the stage to group around the actor they prefer to play Hamlet in the second half.

The stage for the second half is a sea of silver metal rubbish bins and the chosen Hamlet begins in a wheelchair as Beckett’s Hamm, no doubt accentuating the existentialist aspects of the play. The presentation also has elements of Brecht in the way lines are delivered and acted out. Through this half we get a truncated version of Hamlet, the cast being augmented with a group of highly talented local high school students, the gravedigger in particular very good. They become The Players but instead of presenting The Murder of Gonzago they act out scenes from Hamlet thus the show becomes a play within a play within a play.

Whether anything new is learnt about Hamlet, Prince of Demark is probably debatably. But what is learnt is how innovative and inventive Pan Pan Theatre Company is under Gavin Quinn’s creative direction and that this presentation of Shakespeare is as entertaining as it is intellectually stimulating.


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More matter, less art please

Review by John Smythe 25th Feb 2012

To ask, “But why? What’s the point?” of this production is, I suppose, to echo Hamlet’s existential angst.

A lengthy academic prologue, delivered authentically by our own Harry Ricketts, addresses the instability of the text, of role-playing, of life itself; makes special mention of Ophelia’s lack of an authentic voice, of ‘being’ versus ‘seeming’, of the mutability of human existence … It concludes with Muriel Spark’s observation: “A problem you solve … a paradox you live with.” (Actually it’s a nun called Gertrude who says that, in Spark’s The Abbess of Crewe.)

Paradox: a statement or proposition which seems self-contradictory or absurd but in reality may express a truth.

Personally I often feel that only when I perceive the paradox in something, am I close to sensing its truth. Unfortunately I cannot say Pan Pan Theatre Company’s The Rehearsal Playing the Dane brings me anywhere near that point. It neither deconstructs nor reconstructs Shakespeare’s Hamlet in a form I find challenging, enlightening, provocative or even simply engaging at anything like the levels a straight production of the multi-layered classic can.

But when you are based in Dublin, with such easy access to Britain, productions of Hamlet and the full Shakespeare canon are constantly available, I suppose, and therefore ‘commonplace’. Pan Pan’s aesthetic has, over 21 years, “grown from exploring new forms, approaches and experiments with time, space, music and performance” – which in this case, I would argue, finally reduces their audience to objective observers of their performative experimentation.

The premise is that three actors audition for the role of Hamlet, the audience gets to choose who wins, and the second half plays about with bits and pieces of the play in random ways with full-on lighting and some very loud sound. Along with Pan Pan’s cast of seven, eleven locals – mostly school boys and a Great Dane – complete the on-stage company.  

Cast locally as the Casting Director, Heather O’Carroll introduces each contender to a panel that includes the actual, I presume, director (Gavin Quinn) and designers (Aedin Cosgrove and Sarah Bacon), and Harry.

Derrick Devine strips to the waist and strides about to deliver a powerful but unsubtle “Now is the very witching time of night …” and some of the closet scene. He’s very declamatory and asked to play Reynaldo with his back to a Polonius (the programme neither assigns roles nor offers thumbnail pictures) who wanders aimlessly about delivering his instructions, re visiting Laertes inParis.

Connor Madden, with a thickCountyClareaccent, also paces randomly about – taking the piss out of himself, presumably – as he shares his opinion of Hamlet, his early experiences of Shakespeare and why he wears an eye-patch. Having declared he is a physical actor, albeit circumscribed thanks to his accident, he delivers the “rogue and peasant slave” soliloquy with a sound and fury, preceded by laughter, that signify little of what’s really biting Hamlet.

A sword fight with Derrick ends in a dramatic but cheap gag stolen from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom that produces no response from the panel. It’s just a random gag. But it does launch Ophelia (Judith Roddy) into her “My Lord I have been so affrighted!” speech, which takes the action out of the audition context.

Bush Moukarzel is the third auditionee. He does the closet scene, with Gina Moxley’s nicely understated Gertrude, brandishing a broad sword. But he fails to visibly register – both here and when the scene is repeated later – that the person he has killed is not Claudius but Polonius. He also delivers Hamlet’s advice to the players without taking them unto himself, as such. Asked to do a contemporary piece, he opts for a slice of Hammfrom Beckett’s Endgame, facing “infinite emptiness”.

At this point, preceded by a crashingly reverberant sound effect, the Ghost of Hamlet Senior scene is interpolated, played as a monologue by an actor who circumnavigates the stage then walks into and out of the auditorium while holding a domestic table lamp.

Then it’s house lights up and we are asked to vote for Derrick, Connor or Bush by coming on to the stage and clustering around the actor of our choice. The young girls in the audience rush for Connor. One tells me she just followed the others; another says she likes his eye patch. Bush beats Connor by two.

By interval, then, we’ve seen a range of acting styles and production values imposed on, rather than arising from, bits and pieces of the Hamlet text plus a bit of Endgame and we have participated in casting the second half.

One thing I’ve noticed – and it continues throughout the entire show – is that ‘direct address’ informs the delivery of the vast majority of lines from Hamlet. This means there are virtually no interactive relationships built between characters, not even in the closet scene. And although there is clarity, great tracts of text are spoken almost mechanically, with little in the way of colouring arising from the character’s changing states of being.

On the plus side, given the barn-like nature of the TSB Arena space, the Irish voices are beautifully pitched for effortless projection – emphasised by the relative thinness of non-Irish voices and our total inability to hear any of the brief prologue to the play-within-the-play, spoken by a quickly selected member of the audience. Yes, we do take some acting skills for granted (and rightly so when paying handsomely in time and money for the privilege).

For the second half, shiny galvanised iron dustbins litter the stage. Is this a reference – an homage, even – to Endgame? Probably, given Moxley delivers a speech of Clov’s while standing in one (although it isHamm’s legless parent, Nagg and Nell, who inhabit the bins in Beckett’s play). And Hamlet enters inHamm’s wheelchair to confront Ophelia about her honesty and recommend a nunnery … Would this be happening, I wonder, if Bush had not been chosen to play Hamlet? We’ll never know. Meanwhile this high level of esoterica adds to the feeling Pan Pan is doing this more for themselves than us.

Oh, and given Hamlet’s “Little more than kin and less than kind,” quoted in the lecture prologue, should we wonder if Hamm is offered as “a little less than Hamlet and more than Ham”? Maybe. But if so, so what?

While we’re on the puns, the Great Dane that’s on stage with the somnambulant actors as we first arrive is ‘warmed up’ with a deflated ball then tethered to the Academic for the prologue and that’s all, except for the large silhouette of a Great Dane head projected above the stage as Act Two opens. It’s just a marketing device, it seems.

Ophelia gets ‘buried’ in a bin and later crashes out of it to do her mad scene: the best sequence in the whole show, for me, simply because she does it well and it stands alone as a piece. “Loony bin” takes on a whole new complexion.

“To be or not to be” gets done as a sort of round by actors each holding a Yorick skull, which they drop into a dustbin as this enterprise, delivered with little “pitch and moment” loses “the name of action.” And so on. I’m detailing such moments to give a sense of the random nature of what occurs and in the hope I will suddenly ‘get it’. But nil on that so far.

Oh, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern start a scene with Hamlet wearing bins over their heads: yet another example of the tricks that seem quite amusing at the time but amount to nothing: a “quintessence of dust”. Is this the point? Perhaps the most meaningless trick is the very long pause in Polonius’s speech about the actors’ genres, between “scene individable” and “or poem unlimited”.

The arrival of the schoolboys as the travelling players brings a welcome change to proceedings. Young Chris Buchkam – who alternated with Peter McKenzie (also in this group) as the Boy in the McKellen/Rees Waiting for Godot in 2010 – makes an excellent fist of Aenaeas’ tale to Dido; a challenge to any actor.

Later two boys paraphrase the gravediggers’ scene with gusto. In fact there are a few bits in the second half that get paraphrased, a bit like the Modern English version of the St James Bible, using plainer English but robbing the text of its poetry.  

We get mad dancing, led by Hamlet; the Polonius actor talking about being in the Richard Burton Hamlet, directed by John Gielgud, and the final sword fight scene played out, in minimalistic style, as if it were the play within the play. And unaccountably Laertes (Connor) is not killed by his own sword. And the loss of the entire kingdom to Fortinbras (completing the trinity of father-son pairings) is totally ignored.

Harry the Academic delivers a brief epilogue about Shakespeare writing this tragedy soon after the deaths of his own father and son (Hamnet); adrift between two lost generations.

Perhaps the idea behind the whole two-hour show (plus interval) is to represent the random musings of a student attending the lecture. Who knows? And who knows what punters with a scant knowledge of Hamlet, let alone Endgame, will make of it.

One bit of text that does not get a mention is Gertrude’s plea to Polonius to offer “more matter, less art.” Had that line been uttered I’d have felt very tempted to call out, “Oh please, yes!” 


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