That’s the question New Zealand actor Michael Hurst posed when embarking on “Frequently Asked Questions”, a one-man-play that we’ll see soon at The Street.
Hurst, a kind of New Zealand John Bell, is also a screen director and the actor who played Iolaus in the cult series “Hercules: The Legendary Journeys”.
He’s teamed up with young comedy writers Natalie Medlock and Dan Musgrove to develop a semi-autobiographical work that he says is “radically different from the usual—it’s not just me doing the best bits from Shakespeare”.
“I play the part of an actor who can’t shed the role of Hamlet,” he says. But it doesn’t stop there. He also plays a “very dark” Macbeth who really wants to play Hamlet. Get the idea?
There’s a lot of humour in the show, he says, and it is by no means a pastiche of Shakespearean lines. Macbeth, for instance speaks his own words, not the Bard’s, in a mixture of Scottish and Yorkshire English, like Hurst’s own dad, and a bit like his mum too.
Set at 3am, the play sees the actor sitting in the dark as his character “glides off” into three or four personalities. But no, although he’s talking to them all, it’s not about schizophrenia—“it’s me, a chair, a bottle of whisky and a gun”.
It’s a mix of traditional style and the new. “I wanted to make it darkly funny, so perhaps it’s more like Samuel Beckett than Shakespeare,” Hurst says.
There’s a “dark, fierce joy” and it’s very funny, he says.
It all started when Michael Hurst’s actress wife, Jennifer Ward-Lealand, who does a hugely successful Marlene Dietrich show, said to him, “You do Shakespeare, so do something with it”.
He contacted Medlock and Musgrove to collaborate on thescript, which the three wrote together, with Hurst adding a lot of Shakespearian links and references, to give it “a bit of intellectual rigour”.
Hurst believes he was “reasonably well-equipped…I’ve played Hamlet two times, and Macbeth two times, and directed both, so there’s a lot of familiarity”.
The play was shown at the International Arts Festival in Wellington, but adjusted, with a lot of his mum and dad going, even though “there’s still a lot of me in it”.
They’ve played it in Auckland and before coming to Canberra will play it in Hamilton, NZ too.
Although the setting is night time, the play is not supernatural, Hurst assures me. It’s a human situation, the melancholy actor at “that moment before you pull the trigger”.
“Frequently Asked Questions”, at The Street Theatre, Wednesday July 11-2. Bookings to 6247 1223 or www.thestreet.org.au