Rehearsal, Playing the Dane@ The Samuel Beckett Centre
October 20, 2010
Pan Pan’s Rehearsal, Playing the Dane is a wonderful if wasteful production, what could have been eclipsing what was but most certainly a worthy watch for those with a taste for contemporary art challenging the conventions of classic theatre.
We enter a Samuel Becket Centre tipped to the side, the cast casually meandering around the Danish flag, which has been rolled out like a red carpet. A giant great Dane plays catch with Yorick’s skull before a nervy academic takes his reigns and delivers a speech on the textual instability of Shakespeare’s script. A casting director enters and introduces our three Hamlets to director Gavin Quinn and stage manager Sarah Harris. Each actor will give us their own interpretation on the most regarded role in theatre as well as a glimpse at the effect it has on the psyche of the performer.
Derrick Devine is not quite there, a nervy, fidgety Dane whose own self is overshadowed by what came before (his older brother is an actor). Is this a mirror of Hamlet who is unable to let go of his father? Connor Madden has had it with staid, school productions ruining theatre for future generations and finds a wild physicality in Hamlet that he just can’t express in words to the shows production team. And then there is the affected Gareth Lombard, a growling, imposing Dane who as “the actor” has set off on a journey up his own hole but who as Hamlet has a captivating clarity.
There are nods to Beckett’s Ham and Spielberg’s Indiana Jones and a cast of the countries greatest actors read in as the supporting cast (in between sword fights of course).
As the role of Hamlet is stripped like an onion before our eyes the role of Quinn and his stage hands are less defined. They make the briefest of comments here and there (discussing only Madden’s part in any detail leading this critic to believe he was their chosen Dane) but never giving a sense of their function in the casting process, leaving the crowning to an entertained if not fully informed audience.
The casting of the Dane can shape the direction of a production (something touched on in act two when Reardon recalls seeing Burton play Hamlet) and for me this was a lost opportunity to show an audience the thought process that goes into each production and how casting is key.
A Dane in place (Connor Madden on the night I went to see it -and on most nights I believe) we are taken through Hamlet redux. The text fragmented into disjointed segments that add up to an engaging whole. The whole company delivers the “to be or not to be speech” under a vast mural of the mutt, surrounded by candle lit trash cans. Our chosen Hamlet goes through selected scenes confined at first in a wheelchair and later by Quinn’s trickery, the loosing duo haunting him like a chorus before engaging him in a variety of supporting roles. There’s an excellent mad scene, perfectly played by Judith Roddy and a playful presentation of the players (some local school kids) and a magical use of light, sound and science to set up the graveyard scene. Maddeningly it is played out by the players. It’s not maddening because what they did was bad- and the idea of having the players act out the actual plot of Hamlet rather than simply it’s prequel is ingenious but the scene was so well set that to have school kids perform it while Andrew Bennet, Olwen Fouere and Daniel Reardon stood in trash cans looking on was theatrical cock teasing pure and simple.
But that’s what’s so wonderful and why what Pan Pan does as a company is so important. They’re not here to give us what we want; they’re here to invoke something new out of a well-worn plot. To get us engaging and thinking, never sinking back into the darkness for what we knows coming next. It’s infuriating, imaginative theatre, not everyone cup of tea, but equipped with its own rules and deregulations.