Reviewer: Peter Jacobs
Dickie Beau – ‘award-winning lip sync maestro and drag fabulist’ – is the alternative performance identity of perfectly-decent actor Richard Boyce. But Dickie has decided – or accepted, maybe – that he will never play the Dane: that epic Shakespearean role so often used a marker for acting greatness. The result is Re-Member Me – a show that explores the actors who have played Hamlet and the role of memory and record in ‘re-membering’ those performances.
Dickie makes good use of his overwhelming gift for lip syncing in Re-Member Me. His work is characterised by a painstakingly constructed narrative made from sound recordings that rewrites and unearths the truths and different realities behind memory, character and experience. For this show however, the drag is missing. Instead of a mask of make-up and costume Dickie himself is stripped almost bare, instead, using other devices as a mask: character, curtained silhouette and, principally, a large video projection of four talking heads – all Dickie himself, in a row, all echoing the shop dummies that litter the stage.
The show opens with a consideration of the role and Dickie’s (un)readiness to play it. Through a collage of interviews and music he unpicks the campness and overblown grandeur of traditional Hamlets before the action switches to the four talking heads, who are principally theatrical agent John Wood, former National Theatre Artistic Director Sir Richard Eyre, and actors Sir Ian McKellen and Sean Mathias – engaged in a conversation that never happened. After talking about various Hamlets the conversation focuses in on Ian Charleson’s Hamlet.
Ian Charleson took over the role from an exhausted Daniel Day Lewis in a Richard Eyre production at the National Theatre in 1989. Charleson’s performance is remembered but unrecorded and is regarded as one of the definitive Hamlets of his generation, not least because to the concern of Eyre and Charleson’s friends and colleagues – McKellen and Matthias included – Charleson was in the final stages of AIDS: his changed appearance artfully concealed through sombrous lighting. This performance of a character obsessed with speculations on death and mortality was coming from a man literally dying. To the unware audience his performance was electrifying. To his friends and those in the know it was devastating. Charleson died eight weeks after the run finished.
While this conversation runs, all animated by Dickie Beau’s detailed lip-synching, the performer busies himself with re-arranging the dummies and costumes that litter the stage into a tableau of Charleson’ deathbed. The overall effect is a deeply personal homage to a great actor whose legacy was cut short at 40, and a heartfelt tribute to the impact of AIDS crisis on the gay community – and the acting community.
Re-Member Me draws in a lot of material and uses a lot of humour – notably Dickie Beau’s interjections voicing Stephen Ashby, a former dresser at the National Theatre, and a young and hubristic and old and reflective John Gielgud – with McKellen remembering the impact on the young Gielgud’s career of his 1953 arrest and conviction for importuning.
As a piece of work about acting, personality and memory Re-Member Me is a masterful assemblage that creates a poignant and politically-vibrant portrait of the theatre and the men who inhabit it.
Runs until 29 November | Image: Contributed