We all can remember the expired, but what does it mean to re-member the forgotten?
In an ethereal hour of séance turned theatre history lecture, the prince of lip-sync Dickie Beau recreates the memory of another prince both embedded and lost to time in a journey that immortalises mortality itself. Using the audio tracks of his famous friends and their recollections, Re-Member Me explores not only Shakespeare’s famous ‘Hamlet’, but one particular critically-acclaimed 1989 London production and the calamity of events that managed to hide openly on the stage, shining light on the prince who finally knew – and shared to those who knew him beyond the stage – the answer to our famous question: “To be or not to be?”
Upon walking into the Fairfax theatre and its rounded thrust stage, we are exposed to a mayhem of eclectic clothing and deconstructed mannequins scattered in a higgledy-piggledy fashion: shirts and legs and pants and arms and pyjamas and torsos and even a crown. Sidelining this chaotic image is a lone rustic wheelchair to the left side and four regular chairs in a row to the other, flowering curiosity as to why there would be more than one seat in a one-man play. To add to our curiosity, a large black wall spreads across the middle of the stage from one end to the other, obscuring whatever may be behind it. Upon the aforementioned wall is a wide screen showing a large white circle in the centre with the still silhouette of a man sitting, chin upon his hand as if in a pose of thought and wonder. Beneath his figure, the famous line reads in sketched white text: “Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounced it to you, trippingly on the tongue”. A verbal mirror of the physical reflection to be seen – the perfect tribute to the expectation of seeing the lip-synched documentary to come. Beneath this screen hangs an unsuspecting white sheet, like a hospital bed curtain, waiting to be torn open and given life… or, at least, hide the taking of it. There are so many elements to take in, all pieces of the puzzle that is an age of art and humanity.
Donning the faces of four Hamlets past – Peter O’Toole, Jonathon Pryce, Sir Ian McKellen and Sir John Gielgud – our screen animates and becomes a pedestal to sit four heads of performer Dickie Beau, each pertaining to his own individual character; each face expresses uniquely in that everything from the muscular movements and gestures of reaction are incredibly subtle and nuanced, each forming their own representation of the speaker precisely and effectively. With utmost accuracy, Beau’s four faces match everything from the words to the sighs to the eyebrow placements and lip curls of our ghosts of Hamlet with the particularity of a genuine interview with real people, paying homage to the interviewees. Throughout the duration of the show, our Hamlets humorously and hauntingly remember the greatest Hamlet almost never to have been – and “re-member” him through dialogue alone due to there being no recording of his performance. With the enormous four faces occasionally glitching out and fuzzing over for an ominous effect, we are taken through the scratchy recollection of memoirs from the Hamlets of past as they recount the performance of the “masterful new Hamlet”: Ian Charleson.
The title of director goes to Beau’s creative collaborator Jan-willem van den Bosch, who takes the string of interviews and crafts a hangman’s noose on our Hamlet. Rather than presenting yet another production of the Shakespearian classic – as the program gently enquires: “Why is this play so iconic? And why is it done over and over again?” – van den Bosch allows Beau’s innovative inspection to slice through the cracked clay with the refreshing perspective of the lives and experiences of those who have played the famous role. In a cycle of life and death, Beau channels the memories of beloved thespians in an analysis of what it means to live and die in theatre, and the life and death of unrecorded theatre itself in the ebb and flow of time. Ultimately, the four faces above us recall the most brilliant performance they had seen to date, being that of Ian Charleson, and their belief that his grasp of the role ran much deeper and much more honestly than any of theirs in that Charleson was dying of AIDS-related illnesses at the time of his run. For Hamlet, a role who discusses what it means to be or not to be and the politics regarding his death, Charleson’s situation perfectly, and unfortunately, matched that of the prince.
Allowing Beau to hilariously stride the stage in moments and solemnly skulk in the shadows otherwise, van den Bosch’s interpretation is unique in that it switches between screen and stage consistently, almost becoming a two-person show with Dickie Beau our second lead. However, this convention reinstates the idea of having recorded the memory, unlike the memory of those who were discussed in the piece, thus creating a unique perception of a perception like that of the convention of the play-within-the-play. Beau constantly moves props around: the four chairs to a spot beneath each looming visage, the mannequin limbs reattaching to each other to form four bodies in different poses and postures, the clothing being pulled upon the mannequins newly-formed figures to dress them as each of the four Hamlets in their iconic costumes. Beau’s graceful movement and sweeping nature as he collected his ‘bits’ and brought them together to form a tableau of our greatest behind the curtain never seems a pointless endeavour, with each pathway clean and confident and with an air of transporting the audience somewhere in due time. Revealing the tableau by pulling the ‘hospital curtains’ aside, we get the vignette of a hospital room complete with gurney and supine body to indicate someone severely ill lying upon it, figures crowding the bed like someone’s final months in struggling with AIDS. A powerful image, and one that moves the audience as the voices surge with emotion while they discuss the Hamlet they loved and lost with the golden voice.
Beau was styled in the way of a 1989 yoga class meets queer nightclub, highlighting not only the culture of lip-syncing but the story’s tragic progression as the AIDS crisis came to be. Donning tiny exercise shorts, runners, a tight tank top and rainbow head sweatband, he looked to be attending a dance audition with his pride painted on his body, again to be a reference the musical theatre background of Ian Charleson. On this stage, Beau is the representation of the culture of art meeting politics in the 1980s, which definitely was a clash of the titans of the era.
Outside of the screen, the stage becomes a moving gallery of lighting cues that never miss their mark. With spotlights against the white curtain from behind to create an animated silhouette of Beau, to the faint amber washes to create an eerie sepia-toned atmosphere on the stage as Beau takes the dismantled limbs of false bodies and slips behind the curtain to “re-member” them again, to the disco inferno that glitters and gleams in a spectrum of proud colours upon the stage as Beau dances to the interviews remixed into a queer party anthem, Marty Langthorne’s expertise at reaching the desired effect without falter goes to prove his dextrous affinity for creating the perfect vessel for Beau and his intentions.
Complementing the show’s movements were the brilliant moments of underscoring to heighten an emotion or the integrity of an event. As the audio track was primarily linked to what was happening on the screen, the whole play became a movie of sorts, smoothly streaming from one point to another, one face to one voice to one light to one prop, never with hesitation and always with momentum. The show ends with an angelic homage: Charleson’s beautifully rich voice singing ‘My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose’, ending shivers down the audience’s spines collectively now that we have re-membered him.
The ghost of Hamlet calls out across the auditorium. “Remember me,” he says, with an intense clarity. In this spiritual pilgrimage, Beau and van den Bosch prove themselves a powerful duo as they play the part of theatrical medium in reviving those before us, doing so in a way that not only brings them to the stage but convinces us of having been there with them in their stories. Re-Member Me gives us a taste of what it means to sit with the gods of the stage, and to hear of the angels who were unfairly felled by fate.