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Hamlet and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead

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by Kiesten McCauley (subscribe)
My early career was in teaching, writing, producing and directing for theatre, comedy and impro shows. Now I'm a professional creative person. Mostly high-end branding, strategy, writing, editing and digital content creation.
Event: -
Choose an evening with the bard and or Tom Stoppard
William, Shakespeare, tom, Stoppard, hamlet, Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, dead, queensland, ensemble
Hamlet - Silvan Rus Pic- Craig Mcdiarmid

To be or not to be…funny? That is the question for audiences trying to decide between the two superbly written plays being performed by Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble. Before you even get into the nuances of the performances, this is such a great idea; to have Tom Stoppard's hilarious Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead at Roma Street Parklands Amphitheatre, then Shakespeare's tragedy Hamlet play the next night with the same actors in playing the same characters in each. Not content to rest on their laurels, many of the actors also perform in the live band that plays before the show and during interval too.

William, Shakespeare, tom, Stoppard, hamlet, Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, dead, queensland, ensemble
Hamlet director Rob Pensalfini Pic- Benjamin Prindable Photography

About the productions

The actors and directors should be commended for the many hours of work and rehearsal that must have gone into these productions. Several of the scenes in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead are directly lifted from Hamlet. Rob Pensalfini as director of Hamlet and Rebecca Murphy the director of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead have even gone so far as to have these same scenes play out as identically as possible in both shows. Rob and Rebecca have done a great job of using the unique performance space and its many entrances and exits. Rebecca's direction of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead shows a gift for drawing outstanding comedic work out of her cast.

William, Shakespeare, tom, Stoppard, hamlet, Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, dead, queensland, ensemble
Guildenstern - Paige Poulier Pic- Craig Mcdiarmid

The actors are great at recalling the vast rafts of dialogue in both plays. They put their all into their work. Those in the roles of the acting troupe are particularly good at risk-taking and physical comedy. Stand out performances come from Ellen Hardisty as Rosencrantz, Paige Poulier as Guildenstern, Rebecca Murphy as the Gravedigger, Colin Smith as First Player and Ben Prindable as King Claudius and the Ghost. Silvan Rus delivers a youthful, energetic, at times erratic and fast-talking Hamlet. Many actors debate whether Hamlet is indeed mad. Sylvan is choosing to play the part with some elements of madness, perhaps even with some psychosis or multiple personality disorder slipping into the interpretation.

William, Shakespeare, tom, Stoppard, hamlet, Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, dead, queensland, ensemble
Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead director Rebecca Murphy Pic- Benjamin Prindable Photography

There's a clever element of production design by James Elliot at the edge of the stage. It's especially fun in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead but also used well in Hamlet. Musical direction by Rob Pensalfini is reminiscent of a Jim Jarmusch movie throughout the productions.

William, Shakespeare, tom, Stoppard, hamlet, Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, dead, queensland, ensemble
Rosencrantz - Ellen Hardisty Pic-Craig Mcdiarmid

The venue

Roma Street Parklands Amphitheatre is an amazing venue. The audience sits on the stage undercover looking out toward Spring Hill. I think Shakespeare would have liked this venue since The Globe also had some audience undercover but with an open-air section in the middle. It's amazing to have nature, the moon and stars and even the city all appear as a backdrop in the plays.

Rug up if you're heading along. It is cold right now. Wear an extra layer or two and bring a scarf and beanie. It's even fine to bring a blanket. It's worth it to have such a special theatre experience.

Two shows? What's the deal?

While the choice isn't exactly life-or-death like Hamlet's, you will need to decide: will you see the comedy, the tragedy, or like a girl in a taco ad, will you say to yourself, "Why not both?"

Single Show
Adult: $35
Concession/Preview: $28 *
Group Discount (10 ): $28
School Groups: $24

Double Show
Adult: $60
Concession: $50 *

See the QSE website for terms of concession tickets.

Wait… what's the story?

SPOILER ALERT, don't read on if you hate spoilers…

For those unfamiliar with the narratives, Hamlet is Shakespeare's most well known and beloved tragedy. It asks the big questions in life and explores some of the most important philosophies and pieces of advice from his era. It's packed full of quotable dialogue and adages people still use today.

The tale is of a young prince whose father the King has passed away. Two months later, his mother the Queen marries his uncle. Hamlet is disgusted at the swiftness of the new union, which also robs Hamlet of his chance to take the throne as Denmark's new King. The King Claudius and Queen Gertrude are convinced Hamlet is crazy for still wearing black and sadly moping about after his dad's death. They try to nag him out of being depressed. You can imagine how effective that plan is!

The ghost of Hamlet's father appears in the middle of the night to plead with his son to avenge his murder at the hands of the new King. Hamlet's mate's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are summoned to the kingdom by the King and Queen who know nothing of this ghostly apparition. The royal couple hope Hamlet's friends can distract him with some fun lad time while simultaneously discovering what's got him so blue.

Meanwhile, busy-body courtier Polonius - father of Laertes and Ophelia – tries to convince the King and Queen that Hamlet is crazy in love not crazy in mourning. Polonius hatches a plot to prove it, but Hamlet's wise to these shenanigans and denies he ever loved Ophelia. Of course, she's very confused by this sudden change from being flirted with to being told to go join a nunnery.

A bunch of roving actors also come to the castle and Hamlet asks them to perform a play that follows the storyline of the murder as his ghostly dad had described it. Hamlet hopes to catch the King's reaction and see whether it proves he did the murder and the ghost isn't lying. King Cluadius reacts as guiltily as you expect and Hamlet gets all riled up and goes and harangues his mother about her poor choice to marry such a bad man so quickly after her first husband's death. During this, he hears someone hiding in his mum's room and thinks it's his stepdad the murderer, so he stabs him. Turns out, it's Polonius. The combination of Hamlet denying his love for her and then slaughtering her dad sends poor old Ophelia bonkers.

Okay, still with me? This is a heck of a complex and awesome plot.

Hamlet's parents send him off to England after the murder. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are charged with accompanying him and presenting him along with a letter to the English king. What Rosencrantz and Guildenstern assume to be a letter of introduction actually asks the King to kill Hamlet. Old Hammy discovers this on the boat ride to the UK and rewrites the letter to ask the English King to kill Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Pirates attack the ship and Hamlet escapes back to Denmark, where it appears war is imminent. One of the most pun-packed scenes ever occurs at the graveyard where Hamlet meets a grave digger. Hamlet performs that "Alas poor Yorrick, I knew him Horatio" speech most people instantly associate with this play. Turns out the gravedigger is digging Ophelia's plot, as in her madness, she's gone a drowned herself. Hamlet is beside himself, because he really did love Ophelia and he didn't mean to kill her dad and send her mad.

Laertes returns to Denmark and is ropable. His dad's been murdered and his sister's gone mad and then died all because of Hamlet. Laertes wants revenge. The King convinces him to duel Hamlet in a gentlemanly fashion, but to poison the sword blade to give Laertes the advantage. In the denouement, lots of people die and a messenger also arrives to announce Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead. So that's Hamlet in a nutshell (where he considers himself a King of infinite space - you'll get that joke when you see the play).

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead is a hilarious exploration of the same story from the point of view of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. It strongly features the two title characters who also explore the big questions in life. There's also a lot more of the troupe of actors, with a little bit of the King, Queen, Hamlet, Ophelia, Laertes and Polonius along the way. The script is very clever and a treat for linguaphiles.

Revenge, murder, jokes, love and the big questions in life - these shows have it all. So if you're asking yourself, "To see or not to see?" This reviewer says go see some theatre!
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*Kiesten McCauley was invited as a guest
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Why? See some amazing theatre in an amazing venue
When: 23 August – 9 September
Where: Roma Street Parklands Amphitheatre
Cost: $24-$35
Your Comment
Great review Kiesten. I am a bib fan of Stoppard and have seen this play a few times over the years.
by May Cross (score: 3|5399) 420 days ago
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