No Holds Bard, Q Theatre, 25 February: Theatre Review

What happens when a man is forced to confront his own mortality in the form of his advancing years? In No Holds Bard by Michael Hurst, Dan Musgrove and Natalie Medlock, Hurst, in a brilliant feat of acting, the show itself a solo performance, takes his audience deep inside the mind of an aging actor.

Recently condemned by critics as too old to play Hamlet, his run of shows cancelled and being deserted by what is alluded to as being the love of his life, Hurst is an actor who appears to be on the very cusp of ending it all, the stage lights rising to reveal a man in full Shakespearian costume with a gun to his head.

As he reads aloud the review of condemnation, there is a wave of empathy that fills the room. For it is a fear that many face in today’s society, the point at which one is deemed too old to be relevant, to participate in certain activities, to still be of use. It is the fear that one day we will be nothing more than a forgotten memory.

Isolation and loneliness can do funny things to the human mind: Hurst repetitively dissecting particular lines common in the language of the time of Hamlet; the word ‘Hark’, so singular and simple, presented to the audience in several different forms by the ever-consummate Hurst, an actor who lives and breathes his craft. Here is a character obsessively picking over the finer details of his art-form in the hopes of finding the solution to a problem he cannot yet see that he is unable to resolve. The hands of time refusing to pause for any man.

As if watching the banks break in slow motion, a second character emerges, this being of Macbeth, Hurst masterfully switching between the two so smoothly that many attendees are lean forward in their seats completely transfixed by the spectacle unfurling before them. Discussing all and sundry from Hamlet’s diatribe about how cruel the world is, to Macbeth’s supposed inability to be killed, it is a simultaneously touching, amusing and at times breath-taking display of prowess. Enter King Lear.

Hurst not only adds the harbinger of gloom to the mix but also that of Othello, the characters each taking turns to tell their own stories while Hamlet himself becomes more and more frustrated over the entire conversation. While King Lear is used to illustrate the frailty of old age, his soliloquies dismissed by the others, Othello is instead a representation of a man at his peak, his masculinity and authoritative manner upheld as something desirable both in the world of Shakespeare and today.

Curiously, Othello’s character also embodies a form of toxic masculinity in the way he references women, Desdemona and Juliet made out to be small and fragile, the accidental death of Juliet dismissed as nothing more than a passing pity. Even the way Hamlet speaks of Ophelia is dismissive, her state of mind questioned by the way she is spoken about. Considering throughout the performance Hurst’s character is interrupted and brought momentarily back to reality by his ex-wife’s answer machine messages, it speaks to the characters thoughts of his ex-wife, and of a pain and anger that he has not yet come to terms with. His refusal to accept blame for his part in the demise of their relationship personified through Othello’s actions.

As the four characters squabble amongst themselves, fighting to be heard and have their moment in the spotlight, a fight scene of hilarious proportions breaks out, Hurst’s physicality throughout astounding. There are few – if any – New Zealand actors who could deliver a performance of this quality. With a climax that is both poignant and memorable.

In short, No Holds Bard is the calibre of theatre one usually only dreams about.

No Holds Barred is playing at Q Theatre Through Saturday 29 February. For more information and ticket sales, go HERE.