Review by Sam Waite
Hamlet, about the titular Prince of Denmark, is one of Shakespeare’s most well-known and oft-performed works – which is saying something, given how often some of these classics are produced and re-produced. Countless actors have taken to stage and screen to play The Dane, and many of those performers considered it a highlight of their often-illustrious careers. It’s easy to see why Dickie Beau, in creating his lip-sync piece Re-Member Me, found plenty of material for historical discussion.
Beau is the only person on stage, and on the large screen over top of it, but performs without a microphone, all spoken (and sung) words being part of the sound design. As Beau, both the man on stage and the larger-than-life projections overhead, lip-syncs to recorded interviews and snippets of past performances, we begin an exploration into the history of some of the more noteworthy actors to take on the role of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark.
After a slightly-overlong introduction blending The Village People’s “YMCA” with soundbites of Shakespeare’s text, the piece settles into a documentary of sorts – interviews with the likes of Sir Ian McKellen and Richard Eyre about the history of the play are played in audio only, with Beau mouthing along. The overhead screen is used primarily for four recordings of Dickie Beau, all portraying a different one of the interviewees, and during these sections the man himself moves about the stage rearranging an array of costume pieces and mannequin parts.
Dickie Beau is, as a performer, confident and easy to like. His lip-syncing would put many past Drag Race contestants to shame, and he seems more than willing to make a fool of himself to get an audience on side. However, Re-Member Me shows more promise for a career as a documentarian that it does the force behind a one-man show. Solid as his craft is, I found it difficult to understand why the piece exists in the format of a theatrical performance.
Some of the material is undeniable captivating – without seeing the people who have been recorded, you still feel the breathlessness and reverence once the 1989 Royal Court production takes focus. That production starred Daniel Day-Lewis, known for insistently maintain a character, who never worked on stage again after breaking down mid-scene and finding himself unable to continue the performance – Ian Charleson took over the role, and unbeknownst to most in the audience was dying before their eyes. When this becomes the focus of discussion, it’s impossible to deny the power of the piece, or its status as a glowing tribute to a man who went against close friends’ advise for the sake of giving one last great performance.
Director and co-devisor Jan Van Den Bosch keeps Beau in near-constant motion – perhaps this is a nod to the intense preparations leading up to such a prestigious role, or possibly referring to how far-flung and different the actors’ interpretations have been. Working with design supervisor Lorelei Cairns and with props provided by Fani Parali, the scattering of deconstructed mannequins and costumes makes more sense once you realise this is a piece about trying to compile the many different actors’ choices into a singular, unified approach to the role.
Lighting by Marty Langthorne is effective and allows for the use of the very back of the stage, behind a curtain, to cast sharp silhouettes both of assembled mannequins and of a larger image of Beau, stood in profile as he mouths the words of great actors and patrons of the arts. Helen Noir, audio producer for the piece, has done a wonderful job of connecting and seamlessly blending the clips taking from disparate sources – along with “YMCA” there are other familiar music cues, and a section of Star Wars dialogue that caused a stir of shocked laughter amongst the crowd.
Unfortunately, though strong in its convictions and pulled together by clearly talented individuals, I walked away unclear on what the show was supposed to be, or why it exists in its theatrical form. While there were detours of music and film references, and plenty of visual comedy from the animated, ever-energetic Dickie Beau, I couldn’t quite escape the feeling that I was being played the audio from a fascinating documentary, all while an actor was carrying props about and lip-syncing to key sections of it.
The kind of dividing, subjective work I’m glad we are seeing more of, this work may not have been for me, but it clearly won over many in the audience. Laughter throughout and celebratory applause at the curtain call suggest that Beau has found his audience, and that they more fully understand and appreciate what he has created. I may not have fallen in love with Re-Member Me, but there’s no denying its position as a loving tribute and celebration of those who left their legacy in a role, and a bold piece of artistic expression.
Re-Member Me plays in the Main House at the Hampstead Theatre until June 17th.
For tickets and more information visit https://www.hampsteadtheatre.com/whats-on/2023/re-member-me/
Photos by Robin Fisher (4), Sarah Lewis (2, 3), and Tristram Kenton (1)