Following the yellow brick road led performance artist, actor and lip-sync master Dickie Beau past Judy Garland and on to a murder of Hamlets in Melbourne Festival highlight Re-Member Me.
Beau’s interest in lip-sync was sparked by a chance meeting with the impeccably-named San Francisco drag queen Suppositori Spelling. He says he was, “quite blown away by the virtuosity of what she was doing,” expanding on the traditional lip sync territory of power ballads and torch songs with spoken word performance.
At the time, Beau had been wrestling with how to use the witty, and infamously cranky, tapes made by Garland in preparation for a memoir she never wrote. “It seemed inconceivable to do that and not use her voice, so [Blackout] was the first lip sync show that I did,” he says, chuckling. “Since then I’ve developed quite a heady artistic rationale as I’ve carried on for about ten years now.”
Blackout shows featuring the vocals of Marilyn Monroe and Amy Winehouse followed before Re-Member Me, which is haunted by the ghosts of tragic princes past. Beau inhabits the dulcet tones of Sirs Ian McKellen, Kenneth Branagh, Daniel Day-Lewis and others as he explores the irresistible – occasionally egotistical – pull of Shakespeare’s most-sought after male role.
“There’s this academic called Andy Lavender who talks about how behind every production trails this army of ghosts,” Beau says. “Actors do it because then you know you’ve really made it. Directors do it because of the gravitas of Shakespeare by association. They can hang their work on that authority, and a lot of this is about posterity.”
Backed by a bank of video monitors, the one-man show summons a very queer sensibility in its choice of high-energy ‘80s pop tunes and the teensy running shorts Beau sports while brandishing poor Yorick’s skull.
It all leads to the simultaneously most talked about and most obscured production: Richard Eyre’s 1989 staging at London’s National Theatre. That hot ticket saw Day-Lewis exit, pursued by his dresser, having reportedly witnessed his father’s ghost. Whether literally or metaphorically is in contention. The subsequent arrival of his replacement, Chariots of Fire star Ian Charleson (hence those shorts) left no recording of any kind. Co-stars literally begged The Sunday Times critic John Peter to see it. Convinced, he was magnetised by Charleson’s “virile and forceful” performance, sending a jeroboam to the actor. Charleson died of complications arising from HIV/AIDS two months after the final curtain, insisting that this be clearly announced in order to combat stigma.
Voices, particularly those that have been silenced, fascinate Beau. “For some reason they speak to and for me, and we live in a world now where that conversation is really pertinent. You know, who can speak for whom? It’s a question that has been directed at my performances previously, but also one that is inherently asked by my work.”
The year Charleson took to the National stage, Beau found himself silenced. “I was 11, going up to the big school, and it was also the year of Section 28, which prohibited the promotion of homosexuality by local authorities,” he notes. “I was also aware that I was gay at that early age, so I was aware that it wasn’t ok, and so I shut up shop to some extent. I reckon a lot of gay kids did.”
In this sense, Re-Member Me reclaims not only Hamlets past, many of whom have been gay men, but also Beau’s pre-teen experience, and that of countless other queer kids. “I think it’s inherently queer, as a play, in the deepest sense,” he argues. “Hamlet stands outside of the status quo and critiques it.”
And that’s what Beau is doing with this hallowed role too. “This is me becoming visible. It’s a kind of musicalised Hamlet rap, fully embracing of ‘80s gay club culture.”
Pretty soon it’s going to be hard to miss him. Beyond his appearance in Melbourne, Beau will appear in two upcoming biopics. He’ll play comedian and DJ Kenny Everett opposite Rami Malek’s Freddie Mercury in Bryan Singer’s Bohemian Rhapsody, and also French mime artist Georges Wague opposite Keira Knightley’s author and actress in the title role of Wash Westmoreland’s Colette.
“Georges was the man who basically invented lip synching in the Parisian cabarets of the 1890s,” Beau says, agreeing that there’s a strange sense of a circle closing here. “I was up for the role when it was originally going to happen but had to drop out to go to Salzburg [Festival] because Deborah Warner cast me as Ariel in The Tempest, but then it got postponed and came around again, and so I got it. It felt very like a kind of cosmic coincidence.”
Re-Member Me is at Arts Centre Melbourne from October 17-21.