By Danielle Farrow
In No Holds Bard, New Zealander Michael Hurst offers, as the play’s blurb says: “a Glaswegian thug, a giant Jamaican and a hungry octogenarian [in] a battle for supremacy in one man’s body: Hamlet’s” and does so with a mastery of voice, physicality and accent. He, along with co-writers Natalie Medlock and Daniel Musgrove, has created a tsunami of a performance.
While one can occasionally wish that visitors would not always imagine a Scotsman as a Glaswegian (and a Glaswegian as a thug), this whirlwind of a Macbeth is highly entertaining, hounding the hapless Hamlet and trying to muscle in on his story. The hungry Lear appears occasionally to further humorous effect, and the giant Othello brings pathos as well as silly humour. All the characters shift seamlessly between hammy and well-realised, with moments – enhanced by lighting changes – that take you right into the play and the pain of these characters.
Wringing the changes is what Hurst does particularly well, conversing with himself in various roles and also weaving wit and puerile humour in such a way that, surprising as this is together, it still somehow works. His physical movements, too, are impressive – hinted at to start with, in the changes of character, and then fully displayed in that ‘battle for supremacy’ of the body of Hamlet.
Not that this is even Hamlet’s body. The framing device for the play sees an actor return to his pokey home having just performed as Hamlet and it is his suicidal disintegration that unleashes Shakespeare’s vital figures, with his mind running in Hamletian circles, full of doubt and self-talking, while banalities of modern life are also included, such as answer phone messages and the simple frying up of an egg sandwich.
Hurst allows a few popular clichés and what are technically inaccuracies into the information that flows forth in lively manner – never seeming educational and very much rooted in the plays – but these are handled with aplomb, and after all, the individual characters will have their own biases and choose, too, just how much truth they wish to reveal, something particularly effective with Macbeth.
No Holds Bard is a high energy rampage through some of Shakespeare’s major characters that manages to mix over-the-top acting with some subtly played homages to towering past performers, real connection and feats of physical and mental ingenuity. It elicits gasps as well as laughs, and shifts acrobatically between comedy of an almost stand-up nature and emotionally-rooted tragedy. A breath of fresh Shakespeare air and a comedic head-bashing all in one!