George Dillon whisks his audience through the life of the aristocratic Edward de Vere in his self-penned one-man production, The Man Who Was Hamlet. Vere, an established court writer of the 1600s has found himself, although now long-gone, at the centre of many a conspiracy-fuelled debate concerning the similarity between his own works and those of Shakespeare, with many dubbing the scandalous gent “the real Shakespeare”. It is Hamlet, however who we draw the closest parallels with as we watch Dillon’s de Vere flounder throughout his twenties, left – after the death of his father – to behave rather like a petulant child. Dillon treats his encounters with the “bulbous headed” William (who we can only assume to be Shakespeare) in a tongue-in-cheek manner, even being so scandalous as to suggest the infamous “to be, or not to be… that is the question” line as a moment of ridicule at William’s expense.
Despite the space of Riverside Studio 3 being a little on the large side, Dillon assumes control, and, with only a skull and book for company, commands the attention of the audience. His style is incredibly physical and although his expressiveness tiptoes dangerously close to mime on occasion, his energy cannot be faulted. Something that sadly can be faulted, however, is the hideous sound design that grates against every other aspect of the production and quickly becomes irritating. Although I can assume that the odd mixture of noises are meant to help immerse audience members in the 1600s, the incessant wailings of a recorder do nothing but pull focus and annoy. Dillon’s script does enough to secure us in the seventeenth century, clearly demonstrating that he not only understands the ebb and flow of the language required, but has certainly done his historical homework.
The script is interesting and Dillon does well to capture the tones of his various characters, although for a one-man show it could do with having 30 minutes shaved off. The piece lands watchers in what seems like a steamroller-style master class on ‘History of the 1600s’ and the volume of information is quite overwhelming at times.
However, the production is peppered beautifully with humour, which along with Dillon’s range of facial expressions and the quick flashes of his dry wit, are a real saving grace. Dillon flits up to Edinburgh in August and if you’re a bit of a Shakespeare enthusiast or history boffin, I’d urge you to pop along – let’s just hope he ditches the sound accompaniment by then or you may find yourself feeling a little like you’ve been swallowed up and spat out by an educational tour.