Breakneck Hamlet at the Edmonton Fringe Festival

im Mooney in Breakneck Hamlet. Photo by Dale Jessen

Tim Mooney in Breakneck Hamlet. Photo by Dale Jessen

Breakneck Hamlet by Tim Mooney
August 12 – 16, 18, 20 at Venue #11: Nordic Studio Theatre
More information:

An interview with Tim Mooney.

Describe your show in five words.

Hamlet: One Hour; One Guy

Okay, now that we’re intrigued… what’s the longer description?

“Breakneck Hamlet” strips away Shakespeare’s Hamlet to the bare essentials: all of the great soliloquies and speeches that we’ve heard so much, just in the process of living our lives, that we actually quote them (unknowingly) on a daily basis, with snarky narration to get you through the rest with such passion and energy that, for perhaps the first time, you will “see the forest” that is this great play, in a single glance. “Hamlet” is, to me, a rollicking whirlwind melodrama, which just happens to give us the most vivid vision of what it means to be a human being packed into one play. “Breakneck Hamlet” removes all of the impediments and the “embroidery” that steers us into confusing paths and thought patterns, and drops in the occasional timely historical fact, to remove the dust that four centuries have added, and reveal the sensational power of this play (with lots of laughs along the way).

How did you go about deciding which parts of Shakespeare’s Hamlet to include in Breakneck Hamlet?

My first goal was to study and memorize the soliloquies. There’s a brilliant TV series called “Slings and Arrows” where the director tells his actor playing Hamlet (paraphrasing from memory), “Well how are you on those soliloquies? You got those?” The actor answers, “Yeah, but there’s a lot of other stuff there in-between.” The director answers: “Filler. You nail those soliloquies, everybody goes home happy.”

More importantly, those soliloquies are, by definition, the important moments where Hamlet is speaking alone. For once we don’t have to interpret Hamlet through the filter of what he is trying to get out of the other person in the room. We can reasonably suppose that he means what he says in these moments, and THAT enabled me to get inside Hamlet psychologically. He is, of course, Shakespeare’s most psychologically complex character, and getting those right was crucial to telling the story.

From there, I found another half-dozen speeches which were not soliloquies, per se, but which have become famous set-pieces in their own right: “What a piece of work is a man?” “Speak the speech, I pray you,” “There’s a special providence in the fall of a sparrow,” “Alas, poor Yorick…” I knew that each of these would have to be in there, not because the audience would miss them, but because they are crucial to Hamlet’s discoveries along the way (and our discoveries about Hamlet).

And then, there are the great quotable quotes which remind us just how much of this play has entered our daily lexicon: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy,” “Neither a borrower nor a lender be,” “To thine own self be true,” “The lady protests too much, methinks….” In the process, I am not only telling the story of Hamlet, but also sending the audience subconscious reminders that this is the thing that has worked its way into our understanding of humanity, and we are getting it all in a frenzied rush.

Once I’ve got all of that material collected, and memorized, all I needed to do was to add in the bridging narrative which would make sense of it all… and, indulgently, to tell a number of the “Hamlet jokes” that have been stewing away inside of me ever since I started studying this play back in high school. (“Hamlet stabs Polonius… in the arras.”)

What sparked the inspiration to create an adaptation of Hamlet that is performed within one hour?

I had already done “Shakespeare’s Histories; Ten Epic Plays at a Breakneck Pace,” which tells the stories of all ten of Shakespeare’s history plays in a single hour (a vast retelling of 500 years of English history by way of the most profound writer of all time), which was working to open up some of Shakespeare’s most ignored works to a full appreciation once again. Performing that play at an international festival in Florida, an adjudicator from Denmark approached me, expressing how much he had enjoyed my play, but with a single caveat: “What I’d really like to see you do is to take on just one play, and really focus on that, and get deep down into the psychology of it all.”

“Hmm… that’s interesting. What play did you think I might do…?”

“Well, I’m from Denmark.”

I suppose I had always dreamed of playing Hamlet, but never realized that someone might actually envision me in that role. This exchange kind of gave me “permission” to take it on, and the further I went into it, the more delicious and rewarding I found it to be.

Breakneck Hamlet is your eighth one-man play. What do you love so much about this format?

There are always obvious economic reasons to perform one-man plays: I can’t afford to bring a company of actors along with me as I tour. I began this process way back in the year 2000, when I created the one-man show, “Moliere than Thou” (which I brought to Edmonton in 2003, I think). And in the intervening years, I’ve been on the road for over 200 days per year, performing not only in festivals, but mainly at high schools and colleges, where these works have jump-started student appreciation of Moliere, or Shakespeare.

Well, once I’m on the road, with my “company” assembled (which is, me, alone, in my car), then other ideas come to me, and I begin to envision “casting” my company in this or that role, allowing myself to dream big, like performing one monologue from every Shakespeare play, as I did for the show, “Lot o’ Shakespeare.” In that way, an economic necessity turns into a practical advantage: Whenever I call a “rehearsal,” my entire cast shows up!

But, philosophically, there is something to be said about the one-person show being the quintessential theatrical event. Theatre is a LIVE, ongoing, experience, and can never be divorced from the audience’s knowledge that they are watching something being enacted before them, live and in person. We are always asking the question of “how is it possible to do this… in one take, as it were?” The one-person show strengthens and magnifies that question: “How is it possible for ONE PERSON to do all of this in a single hour, non-stop, in one take, with nobody else to take the burden and no “break?” Whether it surfaces consciously or not, we cannot NOT ask that question.

And when we go to answer that question, we begin to realize something about the human condition that lies beyond the immediate question of the play: It is possible, because the human being is capable of it. This human being has committed and executed something beyond my comprehension… so perhaps I can re-evaluate exactly what is within my comprehension… and my ability. In other words, the act of seeing a one-person play liberates me from my own perceived limitations.

Anything else you want audiences to know about the show?

Don’t let “Shakespeare” scare you off! I’ve had dozens of people who are extremely Shakespeare-averse come up to me to declare that I have gotten them past their fear of Shakespeare! “You know, I didn’t want to come to this play, because it’s Shakespeare, and I’ve always hated Shakespeare. But I loved THIS!”

And, conversely, the people who already love Shakespeare, which includes teachers who have taught Hamlet for 25 years and more, all tell me that they learned something new about Hamlet… that I have somehow pulled it apart and reassembled it in a way that makes new sense to them.

The 35th Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival is August 11 – 21. Get your tickets at

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