Review: A critic-proof Shakespearian show

Michael Hurst, photo by Robert Catto


“Frequently Asked Questions”

By Michael Hurst, Natalie Medlock, and Dan Musgrove

At The Street 2, Street Theatre, until July 21. 

Reviewed by Helen Musa


IF you love theatre, claw your way into The Street 2 in the next week or so to see the celebrated NZ actor, Michael Hurst, playing himself, Hamlet, Macbeth, Othello, and King Lear, often all at once.

This is a rare performance by a mature actor in complete control of his art, performing a brilliant script, concocted by a pair of young NZ comedy writers, (with Hurst as Shakespearean adviser) that is pretty well impossible to describe.

Suffice it to say that we walk in on a classical actor talking to himself (or if you want to be charitable, soliloquising) with a gun held to his head, debating whether to be not to be.

While the two main characters are a melancholy, wimpy Hamlet wearing an outsized codpiece and a macho Macbeth with a Geordie accent who wants to play Hamlet, there is also room for a doddery King Lear (“didn’t I tell you to stay at the pub?” Macbeth roars at him) and a melodramatic Othello with a vaguely Jamaican accent.

If you know your Shakespeare, it’s a laugh a minute as you recollect whose button it was that needed to be undone or which character is the most gullible. If you don’t, it’s probably a laugh every two minutes. Either way, it is hilarious and you certainly won’t forget the fight scene between  Hamlet and Macbeth, a miraculous physical feat.

The script is full of seamless segues. “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” creeps up on you without one noticing.

What is really odd is that, from time to time, Hurst takes a moment to perform the more serious moments of Shakespeare, a dark and sinister Macbeth, a despairing Hamlet musing on man as “this quintessence of dust”, and a miserable, violent Othello intent on smashing what is most dear to him.

At the same time, it’s aggressively vulgar, with Macbeth urinating on Lear in a parody of the storm scene and a script littered with an expletive that sounds like “FAQ”.

I haven’t seen Hurst play a straight Shakespearean role, but he speaks the Elizabethan language with all the passion, vitriol, tenderness, beauty and ugliness of which it is capable. He must be terrific.

And does his lonely actor decide whether to be or not to be? That’s for you to find out when you see this un-missable critic-proof show.




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