Edinburgh Fringe 2012
Guy Masterson plays an actor who is seeking to revive his fortunes in Richard Dormer’s solo comedy.
Penned by Richard Dormer and directed by David Calvitto, Guy Masterson plays a fifty year-old actor who hasn’t trodden to boards for fifteen years and who, in order to turn around that woeful state of affairs, stages a solo show . Alas, poor fellow, it is the play he knows well: a long, oh yes, very long version of hamlet sans cuts.
"Remember to breathe." says our host, and this is the beginning of a painfully funny dive into the life of a man trying to regain his future by mining the near exhausted resources of his past.
One might wonder if this is Masterson playing Masterson, at least a little. Not so. Masterson is in full flight and full flow in a piece of writing from Richard Dormer that demands he dig deep. Masterson does so, hurling himself around the stage with manic, protean skill one moment, the next, speaking directly to us with poised stillness, in a clever bit of stages where we, the audience, are the dressing room mirror.
It’s an intense comedy in one way as we are essentially looking through that mirror into the fearful soulscape of a man on the borders of giving it one final and epic go, to relaunch himself into the starry realms of recognition, both self and public.
This is a window onto many things: raw first night nerves, self-doubt and aching hope, tiredness and the wish to self-energise once again. But has our actor bitten off to much this time…?
This is a really meaty part to play, and I think Masterson was born for it. He paces around the stage in the minutes before he takes to the stage in this hour and a bit long look at an ageing actor trying to step forward by stepping back into a younger skin. He’s at home here, and it is his ease in the part that could have been his downfall. Not so Masterson. Even a part a little too close to himself doesn’t prevent him taking hold of the role, respecting it, and thus offering it to us with a mix of tragicomic fizz and deep emotional oomph.
Hamlet, uncut – the one man show – four and a half hours, no interval. That is what awaits our poor heroic actor on the "other" stage. What we get is just over an an hour that’s joyful to watch as Masterson makes it all look easy, though never complacent.
This is a play about the half – the essential thirty five minutes before the long walk to the stage. But it also also symbolic of the thresholds we all face when we step forwards towards somewhere hopeful, somewhere dreaded, somewhere we either need most or need least to be. We are invited to witness the inner dialogue of fear, desperation and hopes of an actor aching for progression. This inner dialogue is excarnated into a dialogue with us, the audience.
Guy Masterson has a natural and charismatic presence that inhabits all four corners of the theatre. The skill here is to command the space and the material with yet still portray a man dripping with self-doubt, a man upon whome those four walls are closing in. Masterson pulls it off near perfectly.
The writing is clever, and there’s a skilled convergence of the at first parallel stories of this actor, lone, lost in indecision and perhaps a certain craziness, and the Hamlet of the play he is about to perform solo. Solo converges with solo promising not synergy but simply more solitude.
In places the writing meanders a little and though Masterson carries it all with much skill, the emotional journey feels slightly denser than it need be; the repetition may be realistic, but it weighs a little too heavily on the narrative.
Masterson digs deep and gives a full bodied and full blooded performance under the skilled and finely tuned direction of David Calvitto. He’s tamed the bigness of the man and there are moments when our actor feels small, childlike and very paper thin and breakable as a soul can be. It’s a performance of highs and lows, a bipolarity that creates and holds the interest firmly, as well as being a source of much of the comedy, trousers down, sideways glance and much talking to himself. I felt there’s more comedy here to be realised and our audience was rather muted given the frenetic activity on stage.
I loved the weaving in of lines and even phrases from Hamlet into the relentless procrastination of our actor. It’s cleverly done.
A highly recommended play, with a fine solo performance that never lets up. An assured piece of performance that knows a hawk from a handsaw, and thus offers us a grand piece of theatre-making.