To pee or not to pee. It sounds like a lowbrow take on the infamous Hamlet quote. One that a philistine would utter while their cronies scoff and drink mead and the thespians nearby cringe while nibbling on breast of peacock.
However in the hands of The Listies it seems that Shakespeare and slapstick have finally found juste milieu, a fancy way of saying the happy medium between the traditional and the modern. I am trying to be fancy in my writing as I want people who know what that means without having to google it, to go and see Hamlet: Prince of Skidmark. I don’t want people to presume that this is just farce. Don’t get me wrong there is plenty of farce and farts, yet the ridiculous comedy that blatantly rides puns, satire and crude humour seem somehow less tacky, almost charming, when The Listies do it.
The Listies are Richard Higgins and Matt Kelly who in 2010 started to create performances for the more perceptive and responsive members of the human race… children. They have won (or claimed to have won) numerous awards and accolades and after watching Hamlet: Prince of Skidmark I’d dare say they will need a bit more shelf space for trophies, gongs and other shiny bits of praise that will come their way.
Before the show starts Higgins and Kelly help get patrons ready for the show by ushering invisible members of the audience into their seats. From the moment you see them interacting in this casual and informal way, the secrets to their success are evident. They are consummate performers. Able to improvise, interact and create caricatures effortlessly. The actors and characters are impossible to separate. You feel like if you just took the costumes away you would be left with the men behind the madness.
Hamlet: Prince of Skidmark, the actors who are meant to deliver us Shakespeare's longest play, Hamlet, at 29,551 words, meet with an ill fate and are a no show. But Higgins and Kelly are not ones to let a lack of actors ruin a good show. Instead they take it on board themselves to condense the four hour epic tragedy into a one hour comedy. The beauty is the gist of Hamlet lives on. The bare bones of the story are remarkably articulated in innuendo and word play. Higgins is Hamlet and his ability to keep the course of the original story is second only to Kelly’s hilarious ability to derail it at every opportunity. They make Hamlet with all its complexities and convoluted relationships accessible to the young and those of us who are Shakesprianly challenged.
With the help of Monica Kumar, an enthusiastic stage manager, who stumbles upon Higgins and Kelly doing their version of Hamlet, the trio give new life to a tale written over 200 years ago. Kumar and Higgins rewrite the ending. Ophelia is not a heartbroken corpse left to return to the earth like a decent deceased Shakespeare character. No, she refuses to go down without a fight and returns as a zombie ninja nun to battle and kill Hamlet, The King and the audience. She wins of course and rules the world for a million years.
The Listies and director Declan Greene have worked against not only the weight of seriousness that Hamlet holds but also a pandemic that has impacted the arts in ways that we will not fully understand until all this has passed and we can talk to that old friend, hindsight. They have achieved something monumental and created a show that reminds us why we need theatre as much as we need people to wear masks. This is not a new show for The Listies. But even if you have seen it before, go and see it again. Not just because no two shows are ever the same but because Higgins, Kelly and The Arts deserve the support.
The Listies presents
Hamlet: Prince of Skidmark
by Richard Higgins and Matt Kelly
Director Declan Greene
Venue: Sydney Opera House, NSW
Dates: 4 – 22 January 2021
Tickets: From $39