Generally people who end up double jobbing tend to be significantly better at one job than the other, or indeed bad at both as they are spread too thin.
However, in this year’s Absolute Fringe Festival, Conor Madden has very much proved to be the exception to this rule. He treads the boards across two very different stages in his roles in U-R-Hamlet and Elevator. In both he is exceptional and memorable. However, it is in his solo piece, in the former, where he really shines.
U-R-Hamlet is set in the chilled environment of Bewleys’ Theatre, the audience are invited to observe Madden backstage as he prepares himself to play Hamlet, a role that he has done so many times before. Ironically, this is Madden’s warm up show before he heads to play Edward in Elevator later in the evening.
Casually we watch as Madden warms his vocals, eats an apple and stretches. Throughout there are reminders on the speaker telling Madden how long he has left before he must go on stage.
From the moment the show opens the lines between the audience and the actor are blurred. Madden introduces himself as if he were not in character and then crosses the stage and joins the audience momentarily.
It is not until three quarters of the way through that we are reminded that we’re watching a script. This is not him in real life. These lines have been pre written and rehearsed yet if it was not for his reminder, one could be forgiven for thinking that it was just him conversing with the audience.
Linking the play to Hamlet there is a veiled theme of death running throughout. Madden mentions it more than once, reminding us of the death in Hamlet and of the fact that we too are all destined to die. At times this seems misplaced but when you scratch beneath the surface you realise this is a play about doing what you love. Madden clearly loves acting and given that you only live once, there is perhaps a hidden message that you should pursue your passion.
The beauty of this play is in its non-conventional attitude to theatre. In fact this is not actually a play, it’s a piece of performance art. It is representative of the experiences of anyone who has worn the shoes of the stage. That dread as you hear the audience arrive and wonder will tonight go ok. Please let tonight go ok. You witness first hand the tension in the lead up to a performance particularly the 5-minute call nerves. That “oh f*ck” moment where your tummy turns to knots.
The show is not meaty in its writing but the strong acting by Madden makes up for that. In fact I would have happily sat for another hour watching him talk about an experience that I, and many others have shared.
What is most interesting is in his opening remarks to the audience Madden lists a series of Wikipedia definitions relative to the play and its title. When he comes to his own name he stops and says “and there is no Wikipedia definition for Conor Madden”. Given his raw talent to capture and hold an audience I cannot imagine it being too long before this has changed. This is a play worth seeing for his performance alone and overall it earns 3.5 stars out of five.