The Rehearsal: Playing The Dane

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Samuel Beckett Centre

To be Hamlet or not to be Hamlet? That is the question posed to the audience in Pan Pan’s inventive adaptation of Shakespeare’s most famous tragedy. The first half is staged as an audition, where three different Hamlets interpret the role. Key scenes are played out – the first half is a deconstructed version of the play in its own right – and just before the interval the audience is asked to vote for their favourite version. In the second, lights are dimmed and the stage is set for a less tenuous, but no less experimental, interpretation of the play.

The central conceit underlying Pan Pan’s production, communicated by academic Amanda Piesse in an opening prologue, is the idea of textual and theatrical instability; she concludes that “what we play is more important than what we are”. This is, in essence, the kernel of postmodernist philosophy, and Pan Pan channel Samuel Beckett’s late modernist play Endgameto further reinforce the connection. The winning Hamlet (on opening night, “physical Hamlet” Conor Madden) clutches a copy of the play to his breast throughout the second half of the play as the ghosts of other Hamlets stalk him: Beckett’s Hamm, famous Hamlets, the Hamlets the audience has already seen, and the two rejected Hamlets from the production’s first half, who whisper key speeches in his wake.

But there are many more theoretical and theatrical ideas competing for attention in director Gavin Quinn’s severed, cut-and-paste script. A chorus of uniformed school boys interrogate the status of Shakespeare in the school system, a nod to Pan Pan’s 2003 production Macbeth 7.A Kierkegaard reader is waved about. The director, academic, and stage manager are given roles to play and remain on stage throughout, but they do not take a bow. Instead, a Great Dane – the dog – comes out for the curtain call in a ruffled collar.

This is not to suggest, however, that an audience needs to be intimate with either the original text or its many intertextual references to enjoy the show; the production is extremely funny and engaging on its own terms. Enormous credit is due to Aédin Cosgrove, whose set finds beauty in rubbish bins, and dramatic lighting effects in candles, coloured gels and projectors, and to the cast, who segue seamlessly between tongue-in-cheek parody and passion.

Ultimately there are too many ideas to make a truly coherent whole: “Get thee to an editor,” theatre-critic Hamlet might say.

Until Sunday


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