How It’s New York:  The performances (only through Nov. 10-13) are at NYU’s Skirball Center, so expect a lot of drama students and in the house.
How It’s Irish:  Pan Pan is one of Ireland’s most innovative young companies.  And co-founder Gavin Quinn points out that Shakespeare in Ireland has a particular resonance.  “I like to hear Irish actors speaking Shakespeare.  Irish voices are quite musical, which suits the musicality of Shakespeare.”

Judith Roddy (Ros Kavanagh)

This article first appeared in this week’s Irish Examiner.

Tuesday November 1, 2011

Putting The Dane Into Hamlet

Is there a way to make Hamlet new? As you watch it often sounds as though every other line comes from Bartlett’s Quotations. Well – you could always add a Great Dane (get it?).

And that’s just what Pan Pan Theatre does with their The Rehearsal, Playing the Dane. They start the show with an academic giving a lecture on the play, holding the leash of a big black dog (in Ireland, the dog’s name was Toby, which fit “to be (toby) or not to be”).
In Act One, three young actors audition for the role of the moody prince (we get to vote); in Act Two the the innovative company delves into the play. The show was one of the hits of last year’s Ulster Bank Dublin Theatre Festival, winning the 2010 Irish Times Theatre Award (read my review of the Festival here!). It makes its U.S. premiere at NYU’s Skirball Center for the Performing Arts ( from November 10 to 13.
“It’s an honest response to Hamlet,” says Pan Pan’s Gavin Quinn, who founded the company with

Daniel Reardon and Conor Madden (Ros Kavanagh)

Aedin Cosgrove in 1991. Together they co-directed and designed this show. “There’s a yin and yang to the show. You have an academic who talks about it in this dense but illuminating way. Then you have the opposite effect of a young actor saying it’s no good studying it or analyzing it; it is there to be spoken. The drama between pro-intellectualism and anti-intellectualism is what the show is about.”
It is a deconstruction, sure, but Gavin points out that the history of the play is having it assembled in different orders, with different quartos and the First Folio.
Showing the audition process also shows audiences how hard it is for the director to choose. “Some people would say, you could never play Hamlet well, you’re doomed to fail. There’s almost a Beckettian sense of ‘fail again, fail better.’ Probably you’d have to fuse all three people to get the perfect Hamlet.”
In the second half of the show all three actors appear. It’s “exploring the idea of choice. Sometimes it seems like you’re watching all three Hamlets, or Hamlet, Laertes and Horatio. The play is full of triangular relationships.”
It’s set in a purgatorial world, a graveyard. “It’s about darkness, candle light, shadow and lack of light.” And ghosts, of course. The play starts with a ghost, after all.
There’s production history, too. Dan Riordan, who plays Polonius, remembers seeing the Richard Burton production in 1964. And Derrick Devine, one of the young Hamlets (or Laertes), talks about being a teenager in Dublin discos quoting the play to girls. “It made them so upset they never kissed him,” Gavin admits. “But in many ways you can see Hamlet as an adolescent drama. It’s something Hamlet himself would do.”
The Rehearsal, Playing the Dane performs Thursday-Saturday, November 10- 12 at 8pm, and Sunday, November 13 at 3pm, at the Skirball Center for the Performing Arts, 566 LaGuardia Place at Washington Square. Tickets are at or (212) 352-3101

Gwen Orel
About the Author

The only New York journalist who writes for both the Forward and Irish Music Magazine.