REVIEW: No Holds Bard (Royale Productions)

Michael Hurst in his element.

Hurst’s a Bardarse [by Sharu Delilkan]

Michael Hurst in his element.
Michael Hurst in his element.

Aptly described as an outrageous and often profound look into one actor’s attempt at self-destruction, No Holds Bard definitely promises what it delivers…and more.

This original compilation of numerous Shakespearean excerpts woven together from the likes of Hamlet, King Lear, Macbeth and Othello is a great way to showcase Michael Hurst’s mastery of the Shakespearean form, cleverly peppered with an irreverent comic edge.

Hurst’s acting skills were totally evident with a flawless performance in poise and expression and accent, flitting dexterously between characters throughout.

The two key characters of Macbeth and Hamlet, played wonderfully against each other as England vs Scotland in the surprising and familiar way the two countries have always done battle. Themes explored include anger, hatred, compassion and understanding. It was fascinating to watch each of Shakespeare’s characters become aware of their own existence, strengths and weaknesses but to inevitably follow the destiny of their circumstance and character. Equally intriguing was the number of unknowns in the narrative which included ‘Is it an actor gone nuts?’or ‘Is it a possible pastiche/piss-take of The Bard?’.

The extreme physicality of the show, which included beautifully choreographed fighting scenes and occasional acrobatics thanks to stunt designer Glen Levy, was amazing to say the least.

Natalie Medlock and Dan Musgrove’s directing is equally fabulous – not allowing the audience to pause for a second throughout the 75 minute production.

Despite Hurst’s reputation for being New Zealand’s Shakespearean authority, No Holds Bard is far from a textbook interpretation of the classics. The edgy, comic relief, which underpins the entire show, has the Medlock-Musgrove aka Dan is Dead, I am Yeti trademark written all over it and creates a great deal of laugh out loud moments throughout.

John Verryt’s contemporary staging with second-hand furniture, a standard lamp and a bottle of Grants Whisky looked strangely like our living room, or that of a struggling arts practitioner, or a backdrop to a Shakespearean character trying to come to terms with the part he has been written and must follow. Sean Lynch’s lighting design, particularly during the dramatic moments was very effective and worked well to enhance Hurst’s faultless acting. And of course I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Lesley Burkes-Harding’s costume design and Marion Olsen’s costume cutting/making which set the tone from the get-go.

But in a real world there can never be true perfection. So if I’m being honest I must admit that although the script was well pitched, both an ode to Shakespeare and comic genius, it wasn’t flawless.

The two minor characters of King Lear and Othello didn’t get as much depth of treatment as I wanted, if compared to the power of the conflict between Mac and Ham which was a lot more multi-dimensional.

Maybe the other two should have “stayed at the pub” as suggested, until they had more stories to tell. I was a bit disappointed when it turned slapstick, with the introduction of Othello, as a mix between the late Michael Duncan (The Green Mile) and Isaac Hayes‘ Chef from South Park.

But its probably too easy to criticise a piece that Hurst brings so much to – there is so much combat, amazing acting, comedy and power in what he does that its like seeing 400 episodes of The Simpsons in a row and complaining that occasionally one is not good.

This by no means diminishes my initial praise. Hurst certainly proves that you can’t make a Shakespeare omelette without breaking a lot of eggs – but he breaks them with passion, humour, certainty and self-denigration that is awe-inspiring, to say the least.

I wish many things for this show. I wish more people had been there to see it and I wish I had brushed up on my Shakespeare to have better appreciated the nuances but above all I wish Michael well with developing this play for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, where his Scottish accent will no doubt be under close scrutiny.

The recurring theme that “Hamlet has lost his mirth” is a beautiful understatement and never really gets resolved, as it shouldn’t be.

Royale Productions presents No Holds Bard plays at The Basement until 15 June. Details see The Basement

SEE ALSO: James Wenley’s review of the show’s 2012 Basement season “Shakespeare Nerd’s Dream”.

And Johnny Givin’s Theatreview.org.nz review of the current season. 

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