The Search for Myself on Stage - A reflection on Me, Myself & Hamlet (with script attached)

The Search for Myself on Stage

The Drawing Board

...7th June 2014 - I put the TV on to watch the news whilst I’m having breakfast. They are covering a ceremony held on a beach marking the 70th Anniversary of an event I have heard much about but know little of. As I eat my Malted Wheaties I decide to watch Saving Private Ryan (Spielberg: 1998) because then I will know what that day 70 years ago was like. Surprisingly a few minutes into the film tears are trickling down my face and I’m praying for all those who have lost a family member or two or three in war...

...A few weeks earlier- 3rd March 2014 - Liam Bayliss and I meet with our supervisor (Dr Fred). We talk excitedly about Harry Patch (the last WWI veteran) and how we will write and stage a text based on his book The last Fighting Tommy (Patch, Emden: 2008) set in a nursing home/military hospital playing with the concept of Gaps and Negations (Wolfgang Iser: 1980, 107) in a text; as shellshock leaves bigger and bigger holes in Harry’s memory allowing our audience to fill in these gaps and construct the meaning of the performance for themselves. We talk of old people marooned in a few inches of soil with their furniture sinking. We dream of creating a trench in the space using the soil and the furniture and maybe some sandbags and forcing the audience into the trench so they can experience what it was like in WWI... We take a breath and pause awaiting Dr Fred’s reaction. He looks concerned and then he sighs. He tells us that our idea is problematic. How can we know what it was like in WWI and how can we recreate this for our audience, that’s impossible. Dr Fred tells us to start again from scratch, to engage with contemporary theory and to do something only we can do; he challenges us to stage ourselves...

These two recent moments are not only linked because of war they also reflect the conflict that has been raging inside my head since I began my MA two years ago a conflict that has formed the creative process of Me, Myself and Hamlet (a performance devised and performed by Liam Bayliss and myself that I shall be reflecting on).

Saving Private Ryan is a good film, it’s won enough awards and received enough accolade to make us believe so and it had an effect on me. However despite Janet Maslin (1998) stating “Like the soldiers, viewers are made furiously alive to each new crisis and never free to rest” in actuality the viewer is never truly alive to the action. By watching the film I was not present to the events of that day and I don’t know what it was like 70 years ago in Normandy, despite the film using eyewitness accounts and historical research to inform its recreation. What it does give me is a glimpse, a creative interpretation of a real event that uses devices like character and cinematography etc. to move and entertain me. It makes me feel present to the action on screen for just over two hours but through distanced representation, through pretence if you will, but pretence that we are perfectly happy to play along with and one I have no problem with. However what I am searching for is theatre/performance that does all of this: entertains, evokes and moves emotionally but also somehow causes an audience to be present to something; to live in a moment that is real, not a recreation of someone else’s moment fictional or historical... I know quite a big dream.

This personal creative battle or search has been brought about by my collision with contemporary theatre/performance and theory on my MA. It reflects a transition I have been undergoing in my work recently from dramatic representation, with the purpose of moving and entertaining an audience (but in honesty is often dead[1]) to a quest for a moment on stage that is devoid of representation a moment that is transcendent and real. [2] The belief is that this moment if realised, which is a big if, has a profound effect on all who are present.[3] My great anguish in this conflict is that performance which seeks this real often is in its very nature abstract (as it is attempting to attain something almost indefinable) and as a consequence often fails in my view to accomplish those two vitally important purposes of performance that my previous work had (on occasion) succeeded in: ‘to entertain’ and ‘to create beauty’ (Schechner: 2013, 45-46). Thus this performance is also dead. It seems I am caught between a rock and a hard place.

These ideas had been swimming around my head for some time (I had grappled with some of them in a previous essay) and so when we were asked to engage with contemporary theory it was to these concepts I returned. We hoped to create a piece of work would be entertaining and be of aesthetic value but one where we could be present on stage without representative distance, staging the real ‘self’ as it where. However this is where things became even trickier.

Back to the drawing Board

The first question this raised was ‘what is the self’. While thinking about this I began reading a book called the Death of Character (Fuchs: 1996) which was instantly intriguing to me. Fuchs looks at the change in theatre from traditional theatrical representation to an “experimental-alternative-deconstructive-postmodern-new” theatre and, most interestingly, she surmises that “represented in many different ways in the contemporary alternative theatre...” is “...a dispersed idea of self” (1996, 9); something which she also attributes to the psychological formation of postmodernism. The notion that the postmodern had latched itself in people’s psyche like a parasite and was eradicating their idea of ‘self’ was a stimulating idea and fuelled our musing of what the ‘self’ was. This led us to collect different people’s definition of the ‘self’ through filmed interview. People’s answers along with the frustration of the creative process led to a two thread approach to our performance and two distinct flavours within the script: gritty down to earth statements about life and the ‘self’ and art and other more existential, philosophical questions about life and the ‘self’ and art.[4]

Our idea was to stage these questions about art, life and ‘the self’ through direct address and a scene between a performer/director (thread one) and then enact personal memories on the stage with audience members playing us so in an attempt to explore the ‘self’ and reduce ‘representative distance’ as the audience would be on stage imminently present and intimately involved with the Mise-en-scéne (thread two).

Thread one

In these sections we decided to utilise various levels of performance to qualify the difference between moments when we were performing or representing ourselves and moments where we would simply be on stage. Michael Kirby outlines a scale of performance from ‘nonmatrixed performing’ to ‘complex acting’ (Kirby: 1987, 6-7,10,20). We achieved ‘complex acting’ through the Hamlet monologues adopting a different character and emotional stance, ‘simple acting’ through the recreation of our memories and performances of stylised characters where we were visibly acting (or overacting) and drawing attention to our representations. This allowed us moments of ‘symbolised matrix’ through our questions and actions on stage that weren’t acted and ‘nonmatrixed performance’ as we set the stage and moved set in preparation for the next story. The audience were able to perceive the difference and these moments carried an emotional weight and drew the audiences focus. However we found ‘symbolised matrix’ or performing actions on stage that are part of the action but as yourself; rehearsed actions and dialogue without performance or imposed meaning very difficult to accomplish. The way we attempted this was through minimal movement so as not to saturate the text with gestures and simply trying to recite the lines, not slipping into a monotone trance but not forcing variation on the text either. I believe at moments I achieved this when I didn’t feel the need to perform but there were also moments when I gave in to the temptation to be interesting whilst on stage and say the words with meaning. I found, ironically (given my shift from traditional theatre to performance), Stanislavski’s exercise of Circles of Attention (Stanislavski: 2008, 75) very useful to keep my attention on myself and ignore the audience, thus removing the need to perform or act differently in front of others. In these moments I was able to reduce symbolic and imaginary perception (through minimal gesture and influence on the text) and simply be on stage and tell the audience my lines. This seemed to work well.

One example of this occurred surprisingly during the telling of a personal story of the death of a friend. Again using attention exercises, this time focusing on the carrot (the object related to the memory), enabled me to resist the temptation to perform and simply tell the audience what happened and as I spoke about the memory I found that I became increasingly emotional which was a surprise even to me. This was a moment on stage where I was simply present as myself; a real moment successfully staged. However although audience members did reflect that this moment had been particularly moving for them this wasn’t real for our audience as they were experiencing it through the distance of my re-telling. It was only real for me. This indicates the necessity of a live audience and the power of a live event but brings me no closer to discovering a way to facilitate a real moment for an audience. It seems that in attempting to stage myself in order to move an audience and give them a real experience, it was rather I who was moved and experienced something real.

Interestingly mistakes and moments which ‘went wrong’, such as technology failing us, also facilitated genuine reactions and emotion and turned out to be other truthful levels of ‘self’ we staged. These moments are usually more alive for the audience as something is actually happening in front of them, not rehearsed or represented but a real moment. The difficulty with this as a means to create real moments on stage is firstly you can’t rehearse or plan mistakes and having performers making mistakes intentionally could result in a lack of substance of the performance and disappointment for the audience. Secondly mistakes aren’t very satisfying as a performer and often generate embarrassment. If mistakes were constant the piece could fall apart or an audience could think the performers were just making fun of them or the performance which could lessen the potential impact of the piece. Mistakes don’t seem to fulfil performance/theatre’s potential, even if they are real.

Thread Two

“In this way self-expressions are attempts to fully embody an imagined or idealized version of the self, a performance of one’s own self” (Craigo-Snell: 2014, 19). In this section we focused on the self as created and influenced by others. We sought to create a shared idea of our ‘selves’ which the audience could then perform and embody. We had objects that reminded us of different memories and an audience member would choose an object and then play us in a re-creation of that memory. This idea was developed from Gob Squad’s Kitchen (2007) where audience members would replace the actors who were trying to recreate a film. Our hope was that by feeding lines to someone else embodying and re-creating our memories they would reveal something about us, behaviour and thought patterns that were ours and theirs. This idea of shared identity is present in Augusto Boal’s idea of Forum theatre where various audience members replace the protagonist in a scene to affect the outcome (2010: 23-25, 26-28). The protagonist becomes ‘public property’ and her identity is made up of little pieces of everyone who has played her. This perhaps goes some way towards what Artaud spoke of:

“The theatre must make itself the equal of life—not an individual life, that individual aspect of life in which characters triumph, but the sort of liberated life which sweeps away human individuality and in which man is only a reflection”(Artaud: 2010, 116)

Our ‘self’, or the self we attempted to create on stage, could have been a liberated reflection of not a single identity but of everyone who was present culminating in a new shared identity and insights into the ‘self’. However, as is usually the case, this didn’t quite happen as smoothly as we had imagined.

We had technical problems with the audience embodied memories, they worked to a point but, although entertaining, these moments failed to create a sense of shared identity and the audience were unable to perform as us or use these moments to reveal something about us. These moments became disconnected and confusing as our audience reflected at the end in their feedback. Another idea to attach photographs to a mannequin which would have helped work towards a physical embodiment of this new shared identity was also lost as the camera didn’t work and we were unable to take photographs. We also used projection mapping onto the mannequins projecting full body images of ourselves and the filmed interviews I spoke of earlier. However because of the technical hitches and in honesty the undeveloped nature of this aspect of the show the mannequin’s purpose was not evident to the audience as one member commented at the end. This meant the whole idea of us knowing ourselves through audience members performing as an imagined/embodied version of our ‘selves’ was lost. One audience member commented that he thought we were saying theatre should reflect people’s personalities and identities back to them. An interesting and totally appropriate observation that means these sections where not completely fruitless but not the outcome intended.


On reflection taking this split two thread almost mind/body approach to the self proved a useful way to begin to stage some of these concepts discussed above but it also gave the piece a ‘bitty’ feel as the sections didn’t always flow together well. This meant that the audience got bombarded with separate questions and various presentations of ‘self’ and concepts rather than a unified whole experience of which they were an intricate part. I imagine the audience felt shoehorned into what we wanted them to do rather than being collaborators (Dixon: 2007, 563) which would have grated them equal creative authority and enabled us (performers and audience) to create this imagined version of ourselves which the audience could have then performed. The piece did succeed in being entertaining and moving as was evident from the audience laughter and reaction during and after the piece. One of the most moving sections was a real moment and serves to show the power the real can have. However this was only a real moment for me as a performer and my struggle with removing representative distance in an entertaining and moving way for an audience continues. This poses the question is this ‘distance’ an important part of emotive theatre, do we need distance to have pathos and are we moved by seeing the affects of a moment on someone else. Me, Myself and Hamlet wasn’t a complete failure by any means, I think it’s fair to say we entertained an audience and asked some interesting questions and in the process. And I discovered how to simply be on stage and found that when I wasn’t performing but was ‘in the moment’ as you were, present with a live audience, I was moved by the reality of my situation. If Me, Myself and Hamlet has achieved anything it has strengthened my belief in the potential theatre/performance has and whetted my appetite for ways to facilitate the real I have experienced for an audience. It seems my battle is far from over.



Artaud, A. (2010) The Theatre and It’s Double, Trans, Victor, Corti. London, One World Classic.

Boal, A. (2010) Games For Actors and Non-actors Trans, Adrian Jackson. London, Routledge.

Brook, P. (2008) The Empty Space. London, Penguin Modern Classics.

Craigo-Snell, S. (2014) The Empty Church, Theatre Theology and Bodily Hope. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Derrida, J. (2001) Writing and difference. (trans) Bass, A. London, Routledge.

Dixon, S. (2007) Digital Performance, a History of New Media in Theatre, Dance, Performance Art, and Installation. Massachusetts: MIT Press.

Fuchs, E. (1996) The Death Of Character, Perspectives on Theatre After Modernism. Indiana, Indiana University Press.

Iser, W. (1980) The Act of Reading, a Theory of Aesthetic Response. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press.

Kirby, M. (1987) A Formalist Theatre. Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Lacan, Jacques. (1976-1977) Televison Seminar XXIV “L’insu que sait de l’une-bévue s’aile à mourre.” Available from Julien, Philippe. (1994) Jacques Lacan's Return to Freud: The Real, the Symbolic and the Imaginary, Trans. Simiu, Devar-Beck. New York, New York University Press), 46-47.

Lacan, J. (1998) in: Jacques, A-M. (ed.) The seminars of Jacques Lacan: Book XI the four fundamental aspects of psychoanalysis. London, W.W Norton & Company.

Lyotard, J-F. (1992) Answering the question: what is the postmodern? In: Julian, P. (ed) The

Postmodern explained to children. Sydney: Power Publications.

Nietzsche, F. (2002) Human, All Too Human. Trans, R.J. Hollingdale. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Patch, H. Richard. Van Emden, (2008) The Last Fighting Tommy. London: Bloomsbury.

Plato (2007) The Republic. London, Penguin Modern Classics.

Schechner, R. (2013) Performance Studies: An Introduction, third edition. London, Routledge.

Stanislavski, K. (2008) An Actor Prepares. London: Methuen.

Online Sources

Gobsquad, (2007) Gobsquad’s Kitchen [Online] Available from [Accessed on 12/06/2014].

Maslin, J. (24th July 1998) Film Review; Panoramic and Personal Visions of War's Anguish. New York Times [Online] Available from: [Accessed on 23/06/2013].

DVDS/Video Sources

Saving Private Ryan. (1998) Directed by: Stephen Speilberg. [DVD] USA, Amblin Entertainment.

Appendix 1

Me, Myself and Hamlet

Performers are milling about as audience enter, they ask them “who are you?” and mingle with audience. During conversation the performers use the identity of the audience member they were talking to last as their new identity. Each performer records the names of those they have met to be used at a later date. Once everyone is settled and the doors are closed the performers take the stage.

House music stops. One performer sits in the chair behind the table centre stage the second performer takes his place on stage.

Performer: Oh, that this too, too sullied flesh would melt,

Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew,

Or that the Everlasting had not fixed

His canon 'gainst self-slaughter! O God, God!

How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable

Seem to me all the uses of this world!

Fie on’t, ah fie! 'Tis an unweeded garden

That grows to seed. Things rank and gross in nature

Possess it merely...

Director: Great just stop there. Ok good, so what are saying?

Performer: He’s lamenting his father and wishing he could die, saying that the world, that life, holds nothing for him anymore.

Director: Yes... Relating it to a overgrown garden very poetical... You know what the text is saying, but what are you saying? And why is it still crap?

Performer: Excuse me?

Director: Ok um. Right. Yes. Why? Why are you lamenting your father?

Performer: Because he’s dead, murdered and I loved him dearly.

Director: No that’s Hamlet’s father... Unless your father has been murdered too, in which case I’m very sorry... has he?

Performer: No. My father is still alive.

Director: Oh I see. Good. That’s good. So why are you lamenting him then?

Performer: I’m not.

Director: So what are you Lamenting then?

Performer: I’m not, Hamlet is.

Director: But I don’t care about Hamlet. He’s dead. Sorry had you read the end?

Performer: Of course.

Director: Good. Yes. Well. I don’t care about him, I’ve not got him, and I can’t bring him back from the dead. But I have got you, and I do care about you.

Performer: Um... thanks... I think.

Director: Don’t be flattered it’s my job to care about you so that this audience will care about you. But at the moment, you’re not you; you’re trying to be someone else. You’re trying to resurrect Hamlet. Impossible.

Performer: Well I’m playing the character...

Director: No. Why?

Performer: Because that’s the play it’s called HAMLET!

Director: Yes I’m aware of that. But why are you trying to be him? Play him? I’m much more interested in you.

Performer: Because that’s what I do. I’m an actor. Maybe this is your first time directing anything...

Director: Now, now.

Performer: ...but actors play other people; we pretend to be someone else so we can bring truth to our lines.

Director: I’m not sure if you can hear yourself but that statement is ridiculous pretend so you can bring truth. I want you. Who are you?

Performer: What are you on about?

Director: I want you to bring yourself to the play. I’m interested in you, not Hamlet. Not how well you can pretend to be him. But in who you are.


Why do you connect to Hamlet?

Performer: I’m not sure I’ve always wanted to play Hamlet. Isn’t it like every actors dream.

Director: I don’t know I’m not every actor. You’ve always wanted to play him, why?

Performer: I don’t know, because there is so much in there. Because he’s a great tragic hero, because he’s a young man with questions just like me and he touches at something core about humanity something deep.

Director: Something core to you?

Performer: Yes.

Director: What?

Performer: I don’t know. It just resonates with me.

Director: How?

Performer: Why do you keep asking me; I told you I don’t know.

Director: You don’t know, interesting. Who are you?

Performer: Oh bloody hell. Is every rehearsal going to be like this?

Director: That depends

Performer: On what?

Director: On who you are.

Performer: You’ve got to be joking...



Director: When you’re ready...

Performer: Oh, that this too, too sullied flesh would melt,

Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew,

Or that the Everlasting had not fixed

His canon 'gainst self-slaughter! O God, God!

How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable

Seem to me all the uses of this world!

Fie on’t, ah fie! 'Tis an unweeded garden

That grows to seed. Things rank and gross in nature

Possess it merely. That it should come to this.

Director: Good stop there then. You know what I’m going to ask?

Performer: What am I lamenting?

Director: And?

Performer: I’ve thought about it but I haven’t lost anyone; family or friends recently. I know people who have died, so I could recall that memory if you want.

Director: No. I don’t want you to act. I don’t want you to even use real memories. That’s not what I’m asking. Hmm, obviously you’re not quite grasping this. I want to know you through this speech, through this play, I want to touch that core thing you mentioned last time, that deep thing that Hamlet resonates with. I want to see that.

Performer: Yea, ok.

Director: Right. Yes. So what does it resonate with? I’m talking deep, deepness, like core you.

(sighs) How else can i put this... um... What do you want from life? What does life mean to you?

Performer: Um... I...

Director: What?

Performer: I don’t know, I want to enjoy it. I want to make the most of it. I want to create art, theatre that moves people. I don’t know, I just like it.

Director: What?

Performer: Life, theatre. I like it.


Director: Interesting. Art. Life. Theatre. Yes. Good answer. You connect to these things there part of you.

Performer: Yes, it sounds a tad romantic I know but it’ true although sometimes I love it and I can’t do it or see it enough and other times I hate it, wish I could just stop doing it, stop performing, but then I can’t. It’s like...

Director: you wish God had made you anything other than an artist, you long to stop to be normal. But you can’t. Without acting, without creating, without art, life is stale, flat, useless and unprofitable...

Performer: Yea. Its sounds dramatic, but yea.

Director: Good. Yes. Very good. Now I’m starting to see you.





Liam: They say that art mirrors life...

Ollie: Or is it life that mirrors art?

Liam: If either of these are true what does that say about shit art?

Ollie: Does it reflect a shit life?

Liam: Ok shit is none too descript allow us to be more fluent. Is aimless, confused, empty, decadent art reflective of life?

Ollie: ...Or is life confused, empty and decadent because that’s what it sees in art?

Liam: Because let’s be clear: art is dying.

Ollie: How?

Liam: Well society makes art, obviously we’ve all seen art at some point, art is...

Ollie: I know, hard to define blah, blah, blah. I think of it as expressions of life captured; caged within a single moment or confined to a stage, a screen, a piece of paper and any other way you can think of.

Liam: We suggest it is our expressions that are dying. Not dying as in stopping as in there isn’t enough money...

Ollie: ... because the government keep making cuts. Please give us your taxes so we can keep making this shite.

Liam: No dying as in sick.

Ollie: Infected...

Liam: ...poisoned.

Ollie: A friend once said to me art is like Masturbation:

“It’s fun for those who do it but only weirdoes want to watch it and it doesn’t bring life it just shoots into a tissue and dies.”

That’s the worst bit about it. It has the ability to give life, the building blocks of a new existence, but instead we waste it, we use it for our own relief; ejaculating art into a tissue and letting it die.

Liam: Slowly,

Ollie: Sick

Liam: poisoned.

(Ollie sits centre stage and Liam begins handing Ollie necessary items for his masturbation that are symbolic of culture, catharsis and consumption maybe they have these words written on them)

Liam: Now is it that our expressions of life are dying and life is reflecting this or is it life that’s dying?

Ollie: is life becoming weary, stale, flat and purposeless and therefore our expressions of this life are merely reflecting this.

Liam: The question is and always will be: why are we here?

OLLIE: Why did you come tonight? Seriously why have you come this evening or don’t you know?

LIAM: Some of you might have come for similar reasons I would go to the theatre; for inspiration, for enjoyment, for connection with others through shared experience maybe, for everything that life should offer and yet somehow seems void of.

OLLIE: I suppose one could argue that life is fleeting and all you can do is whack the Wookie, as it were, as often and as fast as possible, because soon life catches you with your pants down and that’s that, it’s over. So enjoy it while it lasts.

LIAM: But isn’t there more, more to life... I want more.

OLLIE: (stops) I’m bored, I can’t believe I’m saying this but I’m really bored of just whacking off. (Trousers back on) My life is good, I have money, not as much as I’d like but then that’s the thing about money. I’m healthy I have a family and friends; I’m normal whatever that means... well I thought I was. Just like you. But now i want more than normal, I want more than just to pleasure myself.

LIAM Anyone want a chocolate? (Both performers go and sit in the audience somewhere).

OLLIE: We want what this offers, what art should offer: inspiration, connection, excitement, love and loss, happiness and yea sadness because we want to know the difference.

LIAM: These also happen to be the things life should offer, or the things that we want life to offer.

OLLIE: We want to live to feel alive; not just settle for the mundane grind, not just look forward to the next time we can skulk off to bash the one eyed bishop.

Liam: We want more. I look around and I see all the shit life has to offer and I have no other conclusion than life is dying. But the problem is I’m not sure I really want to die, if I’m ready to die just yet, and what will happen if I do die.

OLLIE: Though I’m not sure what that really means.

LIAM: What that means as in, what the hell are we on about?

OLLIE: But also what that means as in what should we do?


(Performers leave audience)

(Ollie gets camera and takes a picture of Liam during next section and lays it down by the tree. He then takes a picture of himself and lays it down by the tree)

LIAM: I wonder if you’re like us. I wonder if you are the same. I think, if I’m honest, I don’t know who I am and maybe like me you don’t know who you are either. Maybe you did once and maybe you knew why you were here, what life was about. But now I think were lost. We’ve been told so often that there is no reason for life, no purpose beyond ourselves, no truth even, that we’ve lost any idea about who we are and why we’re here.

Ollie: Therefore why would we bother to invest time and money in expressing our confusion through art? Why not just masturbate instead? It’s much more fun.

Liam: So the question is what does all this mean?

OLLIE: What does this mean, as in what the hell are we still going on about?

LIAM: But also what does this mean as in what should we do?

OLLIE: Well...welcome to the theatre...

(Performers shout at audience as journalists asking them to pose for the camera, show us your good side etc)

(Video: ‘how would you answer the question who are you?’ Made by the performers asking random people the question: how would you answer the question who are you?)


OLLIE: Don’t worry everyone we haven’t forgotten about you.

Liam: I bet you have some questions, that’s good-

Ollie: -Or are just plain sacred and slightly freaked out, maybe not so good, but firstly. How is everyone doing?

LIAM: Everyone ok?

Ollie: Tonight you are at the theatre. And tonight we want you, we need you to be honest with us and we will try to be completely honest with you. That’s what we are interested in and that’s what we think theatre can provide.

Liam: Tonight we seek an honest answer to the question which haunts all of us in life: a question that probably takes a lifetime to answer and which when answered has probably come too late.

Ollie: But if we are to get this answer tonight before it’s too late, and let’s be honest you don’t want to be here longer than you have to, then we will need your help.

Liam: The idea of live is amazing. We begin life as tiny version of ourselves compacted into potential waiting to burst forth and grow...

Ollie: But as we grow so do our questions, question about ourselves and life: Who am I? Tonight we’re going to find out and (reads name from list) you’re going to help us. Round of applause...

(He invites the audience member onto stage to chose an object from the mannequin, the performers announce which one of them the object belongs to and begin to set up the stage to tell the story attached to the object, they ask the audience member to sit in the chair behind the table centre stage.


(After the story has been partially told whichever performer the story is about stops the scene and steps out saying they need an outside perspective and asks the audience member sitting in the chair to play them in the scene, they give the audience members some headphones and feeds them lines and directions and starts the scene again and runs the whole things. The performer feeding the lines takes pictures of the scene on a Polaroid camera, which they then stick to themselves. The scene ends and the performers thank the audience member for their help)

Director: Let’s take it from where He speaks of the theatre, quite relevant for you I would think.

Performer: Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounced it to you, trippingly on the tongue. But if you mouth it, as many of your players do, I had as lief the town crier spoke my lines. Nor do not saw the air too much with your hand thus, but use all gently, for in the very torrent, tempest, and (as I may say) whirlwind of passion, you must acquire and beget a temperance that may give it smoothness. Be not too tame neither, but let your own discretion be your tutor. Suit the action to the word, the word to the action, with this special observance that you o'erstep not the modesty of nature. For anything so overdone is from the purpose of playing, whose end, both at the first and now, was and is to hold, as ’twere, the mirror up to nature, to show virtue her own feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure...

Director: Come on show me you, reveal yourself...

Performer: Art/Life is dying, slowly and we’re letting it, we are doing nothing, what can I hold up to nature that would make us see. What can art do that would open people’s eyes to the condition we have allowed life to sink to, the loss of virtue?

Director: You can do better! Who are you?

Performer: (laughs) You know it’s really easy to tell someone that what they are doing is shit, the art they are making or the acting they are attempting is wrong... That who they are and the way they live their life is not as it should be....

How hard it is not to make the very same shit yourself. How easy it is to look at others and to think you know them, to judge them. How hard it is to know and judge yourself. But to see yourself from someone else’s point of view, to know who you are through another’s eyes well that would be a gift, a revealing and horrifying gift.

Liam: So were getting there. But the question is do you think you know us yet? Do you know me? Is there more to me? Do you know me well enough to call me a friend? Hands up if you would call me your friend? (discuss)

Ollie: (asks audience member they know name of and have picked on a little) ____ you still with us? You ok? How well do you know me? Do you like me? Am I someone you would have a pint with? Go on holiday with? Share a taxi with?

(Respond to audience)

Ollie: At what point do you really know someone? Can you ever know someone? (Read’s a name and asks them to pick an object).

(Same as previously they set the scene and replace the protagonist with an audience member feeding lines and directions and taking pictures)



(Director brings on mirror and leans it against the tree, performer stares into mirror)

Director: Whenever you’re ready we are running out of time so let’s get on, and don’t lie to me this time.

Performer: To be, or not to be? That is the question—

Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,

Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,

And, by opposing, end them? To die, to sleep—

No more—and by a sleep to say we end

The heartache and the thousand natural shocks

That flesh is heir to—’tis a consummation

Devoutly to be wished! To die, to sleep.

To sleep, perchance to dream—ay, there’s the rub,

For in that sleep of death what dreams may come

When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,

Must give us pause. There’s the respect

That makes calamity of so long life.

...Who would fardels bear,

To grunt and sweat under a weary life,

But that the dread of something after death,

The undiscovered country from whose bourn

No traveler returns, puzzles the will

And makes us rather bear those ills we have

Than fly to others that we know not of?

Director: Your lying. Show me you!

Performer: ...To be or not to be?

Director: Who are you?

Performer: ...To be or not to be?

(Director flips the table)


Performer: I DON’T KNOW! What’s the bloody use? The world around me is pleading me to give in, telling me to lie down and expose my stomach, like a defeated dog. There is only what I can fill it with. To be or not to be? All my thought and emotion and all that makes humanity so distinct are worthless if it doesn’t lead me to pleasure myself. An Insatiable greed. Eat, sex, sleep, consume. Eat, sex, sleep, consume, eat, sex, sleep, consume. Am I just an animal? Driven by my desires? Is that what I am to be? (goes to his mannequin) I have the intention and the means to be more but I’m confused. I don’t know who I am or who I should be and every time I try to ask the question I’m distracted by the neon cloud I’m surrounded by constantly breathing in pretend premature pleasure, and it chokes me and makes me lie down on the ground give in, roll over and show my belly so the world can scratch it. Maybe to be, to truly be is to die, to escape the cloud. But I can’t, I like it too much the way it fills my lungs and sets my eyes blazing even for a moment. So I won’t bother asking the question anymore. I will give in to the cloud let it consume me and forget that anything outside of it ever existed.

Director: And we start to see you more clearly.



Video begins (this next section is filmed and projected onto the mannequins)

Liam: We are the art and you are the artists, the creators. You hold the mirror.

Ollie: And as we look in the mirror we see ourselves from your perspective. That is why art must be cared about, must live.

Liam: That is why art is important that is why art must be saved.

Liam: I am me.

Ollie: I am me.

Liam: I am me, and me is who you have made.

Ollie: Me is who I see, created by the exterior, by that which seeps in, created by what surrounds me, created by others and by you.

Liam: I am what you have experienced; I am what you have been told and what you have told me. I am what I have been allowed to learn. I am only what you have allowed me to be.

Ollie: You think therefore I am.


Liam: By your apathy, by your indulgence, by your excess...

Ollie: By your embarrassment, by your laughter and sadness, by your willingness...

Liam: By what you deem important...

Ollie: By your have made me.

Liam: I am who you want me to be.

Ollie: Who am I?

Liam: Who am I?

Ollie: Who am I?

Liam: Who am I?


Music begins

(Liam picks an object from his pocket and tells the audience the story of loss)

Liam: (Tells his story of losing his friend Patty to car accident. Just improvised straight telling of story to audience) He has left a lasting impression on my life and has affected who I am in some small way. I wonder how people will remember me when I die.

Ollie: (Tells his story of losing his friend Gary to cystic fibrosis. Just improvised straight telling of story to audience) He has left a lasting impression on my life and has affected who I am in some small way. I wonder how people will remember me when I die.

Liam: The Death of art/life is it good?

Ollie: Is it bad?

Liam: Is there such a thing?

Ollie: Or is it just...

Liam: I wonder if you’re like us. I wonder if you are the same. I think if I’m honest, I don’t know who I am and maybe, like me, you don’t know who you are either.

Ollie: You see here at the end what matters is you.

Liam: And all we ask, all anyone asks is for their story to be told.

Ollie: And how you tell our story affects who we are.

Liam: It’s the same for all of us. And it’s the same for art/life.

Ollie: Art/life is what you make it, what you decide it can be by the way you tell it. Art must survive.

Liam: It is in your hands. Its survival depends on the story you tell, the story that you make.

Ollie: But if you are to write your story, firstly you need to know who you are...

Liam: Who are you?



[1]Dead is used here to note Deadly theatre/performance. This theatre/performance is as Peter Brook (2008, 45) explains “...somehow [he is] at the bottom instead of the top of his possibilities. When we say deadly, we never mean dead: we mean something depressingly active, but for this very reason capable of change.” Deadly Theatre is theatre that is boring and ineffectual but also theatre that is missing something, failing to reach its true potential. Brook talks of brief moments of Holy Theatre that reach this potential; my transition has lead me to search for moments that are real (footnote 2) as a realisation of this potential (Ibid, 13).

[2] The real (or a similar concept) is mentioned by several theorists as a world or level of perception beyond the ‘apparent’ one we experience day-to-day (Nietzsche: 2002, 222) a world or perception that is not ‘symbolic’ or ‘imagined’ but real (a psychoanalytical term for a plane of experience that is above the symbolic and imaginative definition, one we have been severed from by language) (Lacan: 1976-1977, Television Seminar XXIV). What we experience as ‘day-to-day’ life is a representation of that real and theatre/performance “is by nature at third remove from the throne of truth” (Plato: 2007, 338). Life is a copy of the real and Mise-en-scéne is a copy of that copy so thrice removed from the real.

[3] Jacques Derrida dreams of performance that “announces the limit of representation” and speaks of the liberating power such performance would contain (Derrida: 2001 p.294). Jean-François Lyotard denotes the Sublime “a powerful and equivocal emotion” (the pleasure of comprehending the real and the pain of being unable to show an example of it) and of arts need to show a blank or void which frees the thought to comprehend the Sublime (Lyotard: 1992, 6-7). What I search for is an entertaining emotive means of staging the real and not a mere copy.

[4] See Appendix 1 (Me, Myself and Hamlet). Note the sections between performer/director and the sections where Liam/Ollie talk about the death of art and life form Thread One and the memories enacted with the help of audience members form Thread Two denoted in the script with ‘Space for stories to be told’.

#thepurposeoftheatre #performingarts #hamlet #ma #reflection

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