You know when you are about 10 minutes into watching a play and think: 'I'm really enjoying this; it's going to be great'? That's how I felt watching Dickie Beau's Re-Member Me at Hampstead Theatre.
It starts with Beau lip-synching over interviews with actors who've played Hamlet in the past. The body language and facial expressions are exceptionally skilful and precise; it is like the voice has a body or the body a voice.
The dialogue reveals more than insight into what it is like playing the much-coveted role of the 'The Dane'; it illuminates a vanity and pretension. It is laugh-out-loud funny in places.
Re-Member Me then focuses on Richard Eyre's production of Hamlet at the National Theatre in 1989, which initially starred Daniel Day-Lewis. Clips of interviews with those involved or who saw it get a similar lip-sync treatment, and again, it's a fascinating and often amusing behind-the-scenes look at a production of Hamlet.
The focus then stays on Ian Charleson, who ultimately took over the role of Hamlet after Day-Lewis pulled out. Interviews with Eyre, friends and actors who knew Charleson are lip-synched over video footage of four Dickie Beau 'talking heads' projected above the stage.
Joking and digs are put to one side as Charleson was very ill with AIDS when he took on the role. But the extended use of the video talking head's device means it starts to lose its power.
I found myself watching Beau moving the many shop mannequins around the stage and folding up the costumes that had been scattered around. Charleson's story is tinged with tragedy, a talent and career cut short, but I hankered after the fun, frivolity and insight of the earlier parts of the play.
Once the interviews are finished, there is a very long montage of scenes from Chariots of Fire of Charleson running; it felt like a laboured way to emphasise the vitality he once had.
Re-Member Me starts as an interesting yet light-hearted play about actors playing Hamlet and morphs into a sort of homage to Ian Charleson.
As a result, the opening section was tonally very different to what the play ultimately becomes, and while interesting and technically brilliant, I left with mixed feelings.
I'm giving it ⭐️⭐️⭐️.
Re-Member Me, Hampstead Theatre
Written and performed by Dickie Beau
Directed by Jan Willem Van Den Bosch
Running time: 75 minutes without an interval
Booking until 17 June; for more information and to buy tickets, visit the Hampstead Theatre
The Motive and the Cue, National Theatre ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ booking until 16 July
A Little Life, Harold Pinter Theatre ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ booking until 16 June, it then transfers to the Savoy Theatre for 5 weeks.