Hampstead Theatre, London – until 17 June 2023
Reviewed by Celia Armand Smith
Dickie Beau’s truly original exploration of Hamlet and the people who have performed in the role is a beautiful and funny blend of audio recordings, video, props, lip sync, and cabaret that begins with Richard Griffiths in Withnail and I, and ends with a Chariots of Fire montage. Along the way we encounter the familiar voices of Sir Ian McKellen, Sir Richard Eyre, Sir John Gielgud, and Jonathan Pryce, with the added bonus of a splendidly gossipy National theatre dresser. Popular culture references from A Chorus Line and Yentl punctuate the interview and memories of this “Hamlet mixtape”.
Under the direction of Jan Willem van den Bosch, Re-Member Me is both tribute and eulogy; an excavation and appreciation of the play and the actors who have embodied the role.
The stage is peppered with mannequin body parts, costumes, and glitter balls. Above it is a large screen where for most of the play, there are 4 versions of Beau’s face, each of them a person interviewed by Beau about their experience and memories of being involved with Hamlet. Below on the stage, Beau gently rearranges the props in tableau’s, occasionally piping up as the National Theatre dresser with some gossip that supports (or tears apart) a story being told. Hilarity ensues when Beau gesticulates with some mannequin arms while the dresser describes having to help a distraught Daniel Day-Lewis out of costume so that the understudy, Jeremy Northam, could go on.
The central narrative is a tender retelling of Ian Charleson’s Hamlet. It was not public knowledge at the time, but Charleson was dying of AIDS when he took over from Daniel Day-Lewis in Richard Eyre’s National Theatre production 1989. All of the central themes of Hamlet are present as Charleson’s friends tell stories and remember his last few months; mortality, grief, and ghosts. It’s is a poetic act of preservation for not only the memory of Charleson, but all of those who died from AIDS.
As Dickie Beau says, the use of lip synching “creates this condition of a present absence”. A state of embodying something that is not there. Every movement of his mouth and body is perfectly timed. There are no missed beats, no falling behind, and no jumping ahead. It’s a powerful tool, and used in conjunction with the video projections, and props on stage, it makes Re-Member Me a timeless work of art.