Breaking the Mold

Aaron Hicklin talks about cross-dressing and tragedy to director Toby Robertson of Theatre Clywd.

Homo-eroticism shades a new production of Hamlet in which the central motif is the sexual and moral corruption which leads to the play‘s tragic end. By casting a man in the role of Gertrude, Theatre Clwyd seeks both to raise questions of sexuality and to relate to the Jacobean tradition in which men played all the roles.

‘Using a man to play Gertrude helps to make the play strange and unexpected,’ says director Toby Robertson. who initially planned to employ an all-male cast, but ran into problems finding a boy to play Ophelia. ‘lt‘s not camp in the way Derek Jarman might be. but it does produce a homo-erotic element which offers the audience something new to explore.’

Hamlet is no stranger, ofcourse, to the vagaries of interpretation. Theatre‘s truly flexible friend has been played by actors as diverse as Laurence Olivier, Christopher Plummer and Maximilian Schell, and has been seen alternately as hero and villain, profound and profane. Hamlet’s sexuality has also come in for considerable scrutiny, particularly as a classic victim of Freud’s Oedipus . Complex. Using a man to play his mother makes the relationship even more intriguing, ifnot a little complicated.

‘I’ve got a girl to play the more vulnerable part of Ophelia, mainly because I couldn‘t find a boy to play her,‘ says Robertson, ‘and I wasn‘t going to be purist about it. It‘s not a technique that one sees often today, except occasionally in As You Like It, but at one time these roles were all played by men.‘

For Robertson the Glasgow performance will reawaken old memories. Now a seasoned director for Theare Clwyd, he was once mooted as the director designate of the Scottish National Theatre, a vision which failed to materialise. Instead he set up a company called Prospects, performing at the Edinburgh International

‘lt’s not camp in the way Derek Jarman might be, but it does produce a homo-erotic element which offers the audience something new to explore.’

Festival throughout the 19705, though his first Hamlet, which he describes as one of ‘the Everests that has to be climbed‘, was rather more conventional than his present incarnation.

‘I think that what I‘ve done is to make it very much as ifwe’re doing a play with a cast of actors into which the mirror image holding a mirror up to nature covers a whole lot ofother players, and we‘ve made the players quite dark. They are the tragedians of the city; they deal in death.‘

Death, and the immorality of revenge is, for Robertson, the central issue, and the one which he claims has contemporary relevance. ‘We‘ve seen all this trouble in the Middle East, and we see how futile it is. This it the theme ofthe play, and once Hamlet crosses the line it becomes total destruction.’

Robertson is keen to emphasise the sacrificial nature of Hamlet, as opposed to presenting him as the manipulator ofevents. While he concedes that the character is bitter and cynical, he suggests that the real tragedy is that ofa noble, idealistic man overwhelmed by a succession of catastrophic

Geraint Wyn Davies as Hamlet and Martin McKeilen as Gertrude

events. ‘Hamlct is actually the one person who has a view of revenge as being futile, but in the end, despite his clear misgivings, he crosses over into that world also. He keeps saying “I know what I ought to do", but I don‘t think he really wants to make that final, futile gesture. When he does. one realises how absolutely pointless it is. and that revenge is part of the whole immorality of the world.

‘I think we‘ve created a Hamlet world which is not exactly the world oiours. but it is one which reflects the corruption rather than what is natural within society.‘

Hamlet, Theatre Royal, Glasgow, Tue 7-Sat 11


: lzzard of odd

in his time, Eddie lzzard has been a trainee accountant and a unicycling escapoliglst. Now he is a surrealist, and that's official. ‘I had someone from the V a A museum confirm that what I was doing was surreal,’ says lzzard. ‘I find it very easy to matte comedy in that area, usually by getting animals talking, putting them in strange places.’

This, as you may have gathered, is not your average stand-up. Since shuffling (rather than exploding) onto the Edinburgh Fringe stage in 1988, lzzard has crafted one of the most original routines in British comedy.

He’s also been well appreciated by critics and public alike, and has been within a whisker of winning the Perrier Award on a couple of occasions. Until two months ago though, virtually no

. {l V‘ i.

Woolfman, Eddie lzzard

televised, lnard, with his

one had heard of him as a result of his steadfast refusal to appear on TV.

‘l’ve always avoided doing television because there seem to be very few ideas,’ he says. ‘nght entertainment, as it is horribly known, seems to be one step above kids television in terms of the talent that works there. it’s either wasters or people trying to get through to drama where they really want to be. And there's a lot of dick-heads running it. All they want is to get loads of stand-ups on doing two to three minutes and I’m just not interested.’

Like most comedians of the alternative ilk, however, lzzard is interested in good causes, so when he was asked to appear on Hysteria 3 in aid of the Terence Higgins Trust he jumped at the chance. The show was

raised-by-wolves routine, was hailed


as the funniest act on the bill, and suddenly he was an overnight success. The comedian is typically mystifying about how he is going to develop the wolves piece.

‘l’m going to cut it out altogether. People shout out at me now “Do the wolves” and i say “Buy the videotape".' But even without the wolves, the talking animals will still be an integral part of the act. ‘When you get animals talking with human voices you actually get a very objective view of human beings,’ explains lzzard. “You , can see humans in a much clearer light ,' because wolves are talking to you in a Q very mature way about the facts of life.‘

i think that maybe the man from the V i & A was right. (Philip Parr)

f Eddie lzzard, theatre Royal, Glasgow, , Monday 30 December.

The List 20 December 1991 16 January 1992 57