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Re-Member Me: Ghosts, Hamlets and Lip-Syncing

Re-Member Me: Ghosts, Hamlets and Lip-Syncing

Re-Member Me: Ghosts, Hamlets and Lip-Syncing cover photo on Stagedoor
Lyn Gardner chats with Dickie Beau about raising memories and the ghosts of Hamlets past in his show opening at Hampstead Theatre

Actor and theatermaker Dickie Beau has never seriously aspired to play Hamlet, but on realising that he was too old to be cast in the role, he admits to feeling as if something had been taken from him that he never knew he had wanted. "I was never going to be offered the chance to play Hamlet, but there was still a pang," he admits ruefully.

If he had, he would have been interested in how "he would fit into me rather than how I would fit Hamlet." Beau sees Hamlet as "an inherently queer character. He has this dad who is an alpha male in every way, a formidable figure in terms of masculine image. But Hamlet’s not that kind of guy at all. He’s into poetry and the arts. For someone in his position, he is an oddity. Then there’s his relationship with Horatio. Many gay actors have played Hamlet, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a gay Hamlet." Rather impishly, he suggests it would "give Horatio something to do in the play."

The moment to play Hamlet has long passed for Beau, but out of loss, he makes something truly memorable in Re-Member Me, which opens at Hampstead Theatre this month. It’s a solo show, but one full of many voices as lip-sync artist extraordinaire Beau acts rather like a medium at a theatrical seance, raising memories and, in the process, the ghosts of Hamlets long past and, in many cases, long dead. I saw an early version of the show, which has subsequently been a hit in Melbourne and New York, at the Almeida in 2017, and it has haunted me since.

It was cabaret artist Dusty Limits who suggested—when the pair were on the bill together at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern—that Beau, whose previous shows include Blackouts, in which he breathes life into dead stars such as Marilyn Monroe and Judy Garland, turn his attention to Hamlet. After all, there are recordings of many Hamlets from the past, including Gielgud and Burton, both of whom feature in Jack Thorne’s clever and moving The Motive and the Cue, currently at the National.

Dickie Beau in ¡SHOWMANISM! at the Ustinov Studio, Bath in 2022. Photo by Sarah Ainslie.

Beau’s show, which stands entirely in its own right but also makes an excellent companion piece to The Motive and the Cue, began at the National Theatre too, where a residency in the studio gave Beau the opportunity to explore the idea of using archive recordings of Hamlet and giving them new life through the underrated art of lip-synching. But the idea developed further when Beau realised that while there were recordings of many famous Hamlets, some Hamlets were never captured on audio, so they remain all the more elusive and ephemeral. Absence can haunt.

The result is a show that isn’t just a mixtape of some of the great Hamlets of the last 100 years—which Beau admits "might get tiresome after five minutes"—but something more interesting: an examination of memory and mortality and how the two are intimately connected, and which uses taped interviews with those, including Ian McKellen and director Richard Eyre, who witnessed significant Hamlets, including one whose performance was never recorded but who is held by many to be one of the greatest Hamlets ever.

It underlines the ephemerality of theatre. And of life itself. After all, we only truly die at that moment when there is nobody left in the world who remembers us. Or saw us play Hamlet. The title of Beau’s show, Re-member Me, comes from the ghost’s demand to his son in the play, but it has another meaning too, with the deliberately inserted hyphen signifying the methodology of a show in which, as Beau says, "audio is chopped up and then the pieces are put back through my body. It’s the opposite of dismemberment. In the act of reassembling them, there is remembrance."

There is, and it’s strangely moving, made all the more so by Beau’s consummate skill at lip-syncing, which creates a kind of slippage as if past and present and form and content are in constant dialogue with each other. Beau points out that experience tells him that this arises from the fact that "the audience know that the various voices they are hearing do not belong to the organism that they see on stage. There is something about that slippage which generates a paradox of present absence."

That is true of all Hamlets too, because in any revival of the play and for any actor who assays the part, the event becomes ghosted by all the Hamlets who went before. All theatre is a raising of ghosts, but the beauty of Re-member Me is that it invites the ghosts to take centre stage and gives one in particular a remembrance that brings him back to life.

Cover image from Re-member Me playing at Hampstead Theatre from the 25th May through the 17th June 2023.

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Lyn Gardner

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