Theatre review: Bard Day's Night, Basement Theatre

By Janet McAllister

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Michael Hurst, actor, who stars in the upcoming theatre production Bard Day's Night. Photo / NZ Herald
Michael Hurst, actor, who stars in the upcoming theatre production Bard Day's Night. Photo / NZ Herald

Were it to play at Elsinore, Polonius would probably announce Michael Hurst's first one-man show as "tragical-comical-historical-pastoral", for it is a giddy grab-bag of Shakespearean riffs.

Suicidal tendencies are the subject of absurdist comedy ("why am I wearing tights?" asks a bewildered character in Hamlet's doublet and hose); while Sean Lynch dims the lights to make Macbeth's murderous intent genuinely menacing. Hurst - spittle flying - changes gear smoothly and rapidly from pathos to melodrama to slapstick.

With a script he penned with directors Natalie Medlock and Dan Musgrove (writers of Basement Christmas ensemble pieces Toys and Christ Almighty!), Hurst plays blockbuster tragic heroes Hamlet, Macbeth, Othello and Lear as they bicker in an actor's grungy bedsit (designed by John Verryt).

Hurst uses his rich voice and fascinating face rather than his straight-backed body to differentiate between the men, and his characterisation of Macbeth as a foul-mouthed, cheerful, bragging "dwarfish thief" (as Shakespeare put it) is particularly enjoyable.

In a successful Scots accent he taunts Hamlet for being the beribboned-bootie-wearing "ponce of Denmark".

Those with at least a school-earned familiarity with the tragedies will glean the most from the hour, for in the midst of a good bard career, Hurst has one or two meaty comments to make on Shakespeare's oeuvre.

He emphasises that all the tragic heroes are mad, yet all in their own different un-sweet ways. And, in a shuddering sequence starting with Othello as psychopath bouncing three girls on his knee, he portrays the tragic heroines as victims of these madnesses, and suggests abject and terrorised reactions for them.

At other times he offers amusing, accessible cheap shots about "great Danes", and he can't resist giving an exhibition of thespian craft, beating himself up - as different heroes - in a prolonged, impressive comic routine (stunt designed by Glen Levy).

What: Bard Day's Night
Where: Basement Theatre, Greys Ave, to May 26

- NZ Herald

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