Goodwood Institute Theatre
Until 03 Mar 2018

Review by Thomas Filsell

“Hamlet at the Bottle-O” is fifty minutes of liquor-loaded lyricism, laughs, and good old Aussie larrikinism. Nick Mercer is our Hamlet – or would-be Hamlet, so he tells us – a cheeky, cheerful Sydney-sider who has spent most of his adult life earning his keep as a bottle shop attendant and working on and off as an actor for the stage, screen, anything he can make a go of, really.

The setting is not the Royal Palace in Elsinore, but Nick’s own, very Australian, bottle-o, and consists of a till, counter, wine rack and some items of decor that change with the seasons. The staging may seem modest, even sparse, but Nick’s creative energy and some very clever writing more than compensate for the lack of physical stage props and scenery. In no time we see the whole interior of Nick’s bottle-o as he takes customers through their options (and they take him to the brink), and we even become familiar with a full cast of colourful retail characters, who are so well written and true to life that we recognise them as if they were the team at our local.

Nick Mercer is an effortlessly funny and likeable guy. The humour never wanes in Pat Wilson’s delightfully lyrical, poetical and colloquial script, and Mercer manages to deliver it naturally and without trying to force laughter. Even where he slipped up, on the rare occasion he did, he was able to laugh at himself and incorporated it into the show in a charming, self-deprecating way.

Most impressive is that these three creative talents – Mercer, Wilson, and director Adrian Barnes – worked on “Hamlet at the Bottle-O”, essentially individually, before coming together in only the final weeks before production. The show is fifty minutes of quick-paced, quick-witted, intelligent humour, full of literary, comedic and dramatic references, and is heavily informed by a knowledge of liquor, retail and Australian culture. It is quite a feat for one actor to practice and perform such a clever, comedic work alone, but even more impressive how much of it is reflective of Mercer’s life and experiences and the experiences of Australians generally, given it was created collaboratively and mostly over long-distance.

“Hamlet at the Bottle-O” had me smiling or laughing throughout. It was good recognisable, relatable fun, light-hearted and non-confronting, it’s the sort of show that will appeal to people making their living in the arts, retail, oenology, or anyone looking for a few laughs and a free glass of wine (at Nick’s recommendation).

Rating: 4.5 stars (out of 5)