Fringe Online 2020
“Alas, poor Yorick! ”
“I knew him, Horatio: a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy. . . . Where be your gibes now? your gambols? your songs? your flashes of merriment, that were wont to set the table on a roar? ”
Where indeed? When Hamlet contemplates Yorick’s skull in Act V of ‘Hamlet’, it’s been twenty-three years since his father’s old jester died, and now his bones lie in the earth of the Palace graveyard. The bones are there, but what about the gibes, the flashes of merriment that were the essence of Yorick? – what’s become of them?
Turns out that Yorick’s essence, his soul if you prefer, is stuck in limbo – unable to move on; either towards Heaven or Hell. He’s been there for more than two decades, but recently he’s had a companion: King Hamlet, Prince Hamlet’s murdered father.
King Hamlet’s corpse is slowly decomposing in his tomb, but his essence is trapped -somewhere between this world and the next – along with Yorick’s, and that’s where we find them at the beginning of ‘Waiting for Hamlet’.
And what a pair they are. Separated by rank in life, they’ve become equal in death, and they’re perfect foils for each other. King Hamlet understands that he’s dead – although he can’t bring himself to utter the actual word – but he’s desperate to go back to the world of the living, to influence events and bolster his legacy. Yorick understands that they have no power any more, that events are out of their control and they simply have to … wait.
The king is outraged by this: “Kings don’t wait!” – to which Yorick retorts: “Dead kings wait.” Yorick was the King’s Fool, but he’s used to speaking truth to power.
So they wait. The writing has a lot in common with ‘Waiting for Godot’, with two old men arguing about the point of their existence while they wait impotently for something to happen.
Apart from ‘Godot’, to which of course there’s a nod in the piece’s title, ‘Waiting for Hamlet’ reminds us of ‘Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’, which also views ‘Hamlet’ from offstage, as it were. It’s a real hommage to Shakespeare’s writing, by a writer who obviously has a deep love for the play and has managed to give it a whole new dimension.
Talking of ‘dimensions’, there are loads of gags and puns in the piece. At one point, Yorick is trying to explain to the King that they’re – “nowhere: no Where; and out of time: no When.”
Hamlet is confused – “Explain that”
Yorick tries to elucidate – “There’s no Time.”
and we get the King’s response – “Briefly, then!”
Another – Hamlet is boasting that his job as King is “To put wrongs to right” – to which Yorick ripostes “You’ve tried to right the wrong wrongs.” Clever, sparkling writing all the way through – though to this reviewer’s ear one or two of the puns were rather painful.
Perhaps the great strength of the play is how it points up the differences between the two men – the King: pompous, completely self-centred, secure in his sense of inherited entitlement and privilege even after death – and the Fool: come up from poverty with nothing but his own talent to make his way. Hamlet is dismissive – “You made a Fool of yourself.” to which Yorick responds – “I made a living.” Hearing the two, I couldn’t help thinking of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza.
David Visick’s writing is panoptic – it manages to encompass universal themes like the nature of power and privilege, of hierarchy and of how states are governed, not to mention existence itself; while simultaneously commenting on the specifics of Shakespeare’s play: about Claudius and Gertrude and their probable ongoing sexual relationship that led up to Hamlet’s murder. It’s obviously a piece (like ‘Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’) primarily aimed at people who are familiar with ‘Hamlet’, but ‘Waiting for Hamlet’ could be enjoyed on its own, as it’s complete in itself. Hearing the play as an audio track online might in some ways be a richer experience than seeing it performed on stage – less visual distraction from the great writing.
The play’s ending really broke through the ‘fourth wall’ of drama (can you have a ‘fourth wall’ with just audio?), but you’ll have to listen to the production for yourselves to experience the frisson of recognition of Shakespeare’s lines that this reviewer did. Tim Marriott as Hamlet and Nicholas Collett as Yorick are wonderfully cast. Their voices on the audio recording allow us to visualise them in the flesh. Hamlet slightly younger, probably taller, higher pitched and breathless with impatience and status – “It’s a King thing!” is his rationale for any of his actions. Collett made Yorick sound older, wiser and much more resigned to his place in the Universe.
A final thought – we listen to this production of ‘Waiting for Hamlet’ because we can’t go and see it performed; we’re in lockdown and all we can do is sit and wait. Just like the Fool and the King in their ‘no-where, no-when’ existence. And the men who both wear crowns (Yorick used to wear a joke one to amuse the King) would appreciate the irony that we’re kept captive by a Coronavirus – so named because its structure resembles the points on a … crown.