Bet you Alan Cumming never had to go through this. Where his one-man Macbeth must have been a trial, the four-and-a-half hour, uncut, solo Hamlet that Guy Masterson’s actor is about to stage as his comeback in this lone production leads to some serious dressing-room nerves. The audience might come, but why should they stay? “I’ve cut the intervals!” he cackles, maniacally.
Those who have seen the excellent Israeli play Repertory Theatre at this year’s Fringe might be drawn to make comparisons between it and Masterson’s The Half (the name is a reference to the actor’s half-hour stage call, after which most of this play takes place). Both are about theatre makers struggling to get to grips with a performance of Hamlet, but while the other piece is boldly experimental in form, Masterson’s production of Richard Dormer’s play is unashamedly trad in execution. His actor has a barely-controlled drink problem, a wife who has left him and, surprised by the age of his face in the mirror, he bitterly muses “it seemed like only yesterday you were playing Romeo”. That these potentially clichéd elements combine to form something greater and more heartfelt than might be anticipated is almost entirely down to Masterson’s strong performance, an astute mix of worldly pathos and fast-paced physical comedy.
The adrenaline involved in performing on opening night, says the actor, is “the equivalent of being involved in a 35-mile- an-hour, head-on car crash”, and Masterson appears to be trying to channel this very sensation with a performance that begins to race as his character skirts the edge of a nervous breakdown. He forgets his shoes. He forgets his trousers. He chatters at Yorick’s skull. He swordfights with himself. He appears unable to stop saying “Macbeth”, jinxing himself more with every syllable, and searches in vain for some wood to touch for luck, cursing the “concrete monstrosity” that is the modern theatre building. It’s one long theatrical in-joke, for sure, but there is power in his eventual conclusion that “it’s what I do. I am an actor.”
Until 26 August. Today 2pm.