BWW Interview: Dickie Beau Talks DICKIE BEAU: RE-MEMBER ME
Award-winning actor Dickie Beau is a man of a thousand faces, but one voice. The lip synch maestro brought Dickie Beau: Re-Member Me to Latitude Festival, following an extended run at the Almeida. Combining recordings of Hamlet with quotes and stories from actors and creatives, it's a Hamlet mixtape.
How would you describe the show?
It's a lip-synched, verbatim documentary...it's a bit like a radio documentary in 3D! The idea started off that I would take recordings of performances of Hamlet from the past, and make a kind of human Hamlet mixtape as I lip synched along.
I started to look into previous Hamlets and their performances, and then I became interested in particular stories behind the scenes. I knew about some of them, like the Daniel Day-Lewis "ghost story". But I didn't really know about Ian Charleson's story, his particular Hamlet at the National Theatre. I didn't know that he played Hamlet at that point, in those circumstances of his life. And so, in another sense, it's a sort of unashamed eulogy to Ian. And by extension, all of the people of that time (the late 80's early 90s) who died of AIDS and those affected. And as a queer person, for me it's a very moving story. That was the driving force behind it.
Did you have a particular attachment to Hamlet?
I wasn't really that interested in Hamlet to be honest, until I realised that I probably wasn't going to play him! I'd studied Hamlet at school and I'd seen several productions of it, but then I more or less lost interest in it until I turned 36 and thought, "Oh, no one's asked me to play Hamlet!"
So then you decided to play all of the Hamlets!
Yes. But then I thought, "Well, am I actually interested in playing Hamlet?"
How did the show come about?
It was actually a cabaret performer, Dusty Limits, who I was doing a different performance with at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern. He said, "Do you know what you should do? You should take Richard Burton and Laurence Olivier and John Gielgud and all these others, chop them up, put them back together and then channel the whole play, and play all the parts". And I thought, "Actually, that's a really good idea!"
I was lucky enough to get these wonderful interviews for the show, which I recorded with Richard Eyre and Sean Mathias and Ian McKellen. And so when I was writing and editing those, I had to try and figure out how these individual interviews might flow as a connected conversation. It worked out incredibly well, and I don't think it's dry. Partly, because Ian McKellen has got such a fantastic sense of humour about himself! He's such a beautiful man; he's become a real hero of mine through this. He actually came to see the show at the Almeida.
So I had all this material, but I hadn't put it together yet. I was still going through, percolating. And then they said, "Come and do something on the set!" (because they knew that I was developing this). So I met with Robert Icke and they booked me. And it sort of came together in the two weeks before the first performance! My first interview with Richard Eyre, I pressed pause instead of record; that was about 18 months ago. And so I managed to schedule a second interview with him, but I ended up doing it two weeks before the Almeida show! So I had no clue what exactly I was going to do. When it came to it, I listened to Richard Eyre's interview and all of the material from other interviews together with my director Jan-Willem Van Den. And we were able to see a path.
Can you tell us a bit about your training? You have such a range of styles and skills in this show.
I did a Drama degree at Manchester, and then I worked in film and TV drama development for a few years. But I'd already done a bit of professional acting, which had been open air Shakespeare while I was at university. After a couple of years, I realised I wanted to be on the creative front line somehow. So I got together with some friends and we did a play and some other Fringe shows.
Then I went to Milan and joined a physical theatre company there. That did something to me in terms of how I understood what theatre could be and how you could use your body. Then when I came back from Milan, I happened to meet a drag queen from San Fransisco called Suppositori Spelling, who introduced me to lip synching. And I didn't do anything with that skill for a while. And then a friend of mine asked to do something at a show. And I had listened to some Judy Garland tapes a few years before and thought, "There's a show in this, but I don't know what..."
So I returned to those tapes and, in so doing, it seemed inconceivable to do something with the material and not use her voice. And so I thought, "Well, I'll lip synch it!" And I almost didn't do it, I thought, "This is too long, too boring, nobody is going to be interested". But I did it and it really obviously worked, so I realised I was on to something.
I now think that there are endless possibilities to lip synching. Because it makes the idea of the person present, but at the same time it's making present the fact that they're not there. And I think there's something in that equation.
What can we expect from you next?
I am going to New York in October to do Blackouts, which is the first show which I made with this Director, Jan. And then we are going again, fingers crossed, in January with this show. It was a real buzzy moment to do the show originally at the Almeida, but I did wonder if it was because of this moment and this place at this particular time, with Robert Icke's production. But doing it here at Latitude, it seems like people like it as a show in its own right. So that's good, because I like to share it.
Dickie Beau: Re-Member Me next plays at the Contact Theatre, Manchester - book tickets here
Photo credit: Robin Fisher