Hamlet and eggs sunny side up

01:21, Mar 05 2012

Frequently Asked Questions by Natalie Medlock & Dan Musgrove,

directed by Natalie Medlock Downstage Theatre, until March 11,

Reviewed by Laurie Atkinson.

Rosencrantz clearly got it wrong when he told Gertrude that Hamlet was "niggard of question" (unwilling to start a conversation) because in this, the fourth and funniest and most outrageous Shakespearean offering of the festival, he talks a great deal not only to himself but also to his fellow tragic heroes.

It would appear that Hamlet lives not in Elsinore but in dingy theatrical digs complete with a gas ring on which he fries an egg. He paces about the room, at times like a camp and hammy actor, pondering the multitude of questions swirling around his fevered brain: To be or not etc?, What is this quintessence of dust? Who calls me villain? Why am I wearing these ridiculous tights?

He also gets very mixed up with all the "Harks!" that crop up in his life. His musings on harks and questions are interrupted by the arrival of Macbeth (clearly an ancestor of Billy Connolly with the swearing to match), and later Othello (as West Indian as Laurence Olivier's Othello), and a doddery Lear who seems as interested in the fried egg as he is with his troublesome daughters.

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Macbeth thinks Hamlet would be a richer and sexier play if he played Hamlet rather than Hamlet; at least Hamlet wouldn't be such a wimp, though the appearance of Lady Macbeth sends Macbeth cowering for safety behind the armchair.

Othello, too, tries to put some backbone into Hamlet and eventually Hamlet stands up for himself and sends everyone packing to their deaths as he faces his own.

In a comic tour de force Michael Hurst plays all the roles with relish, sending up styles of Shakespearean acting, poking fun at the language, and providing some gloriously funny physical comedy when Hamlet and Macbeth fight each other.

But miraculously he can also turn the comedy on a sixpence and change the mood almost without one being aware that he is doing so as he releases the emotional power of the poetry in some of the most famous speeches in the English language.