Lights up on Hamlet, resplendent in full costume.

"I have of late, but wherefore I know not, lost all my mirth," he tells us.

Too right he has. He's holding a gun to his temple.

We are in the apartment of a Shakespearean actor on the brink of suicide ... "to be or not to be" and all that.

Advertisement

The place is a tip. His girlfriend has just left him and it's not hard to see why.

I have often wondered how it must feel to be the consummate actor and allow your own personality to be totally subsumed, even consumed, by the characters you are playing.

In this compelling one-man play, Michael Hurst leaves us in no doubt.

Schizophrenia hardly begins to describe a condition where our actor's mind has become swamped by the characters he nightly becomes on stage. Hamlet struggles with Macbeth (complete with Scottish accent), King Lear and Othello in the lonely flat.

But this hour-long tour de force by Hurst is no unrelenting dark tragedy. It is alternately moving and funny, with moments of pure hilarity, such as when Macbeth insists he could play Hamlet better than Hamlet himself ... "I'd make a great Dane."

Hurst held the audience spellbound with a bravura performance at yesterday's opening show.

It is a rare treat to enjoy professional acting of such quality in Tauranga and organisers of this weekend's Escape arts festival are to be congratulated for the exhilarating line-up they have brought to the city.

It could just be the most powerful performance of anything you will see all year.