Posts Tagged ‘paige poulier

08
Sep
18

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

 

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble

Roma Street Parklands Amphitheatre

August 23 – September 8 2018

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

Presented in rep with Hamlet, directed by Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble AD Rob Pensalfini

 

the single assumption which makes our existence viable – that somebody is watching…

 

Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, about the misadventures of the messengers, two minor characters in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, is treated with due respect, and new and delicious humour by Director, Rebecca Murphy, and the Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble. Admittedly, I hadn’t seen a QSE production for some time; like Brisbane Arts Theatre, they suffered a period of sameness for a little while there, not that it ever appeared to hurt ticket sales (who doesn’t love Shakespeare in the park!?), and I think it’s safe to say that both companies are back now, with fresh energy and some new approaches to staging some of the most accessible theatre in Brisbane by considering carefully the work they produce, ensuring its broad appeal and affordability. Perhaps QSE have always taken this approach (their training has certainly remained one of the most highly regarded by performers).

 

In a contemporary context, as the director notes, QSE’s continuing work with their Shakespeare Beyond: Shakespeare Prison Project adds gravitas to the waiting Rosencrantz and Guildenstern do. We feel the hopelessness of their situation. And the stubborn attempts to continually discover joy in tiny moments. Because, would we choose despair?

 

 

#teacherlyf in a delightful Drama Department means that I get to go with the kids to see the shows they have to review. Some of these are so insightfully written that I would like to share them here. Alana? Anyone? We took Year 11s and 12s to Roma Street Parklands to see R&G (not to be confused, when you see that, it’s an easy mistake, with R&J), and they loved it. Of course they love a night out together too so if you can host a whole bunch of them at your venue, do let me know. They’re great for business; they’re super polite, they eat heaps, they share amusing stories and they Snapchat it all. You’ll adore them.

 

Murphy’s production plays with the traditional casting, and while the gender-blind approach is nothing new (UM. SHAKESPEARE) it could be considered a diabolical error of judgement if the actors are not up to the task. Fortunately, our titular characters are played to the hilt by fine fellows, Ellen Hardistry (Rosencrantz, and in the BAT 2012 production, Hamlet’s mother) and Paige Poulier (Guildenstern). The other crowdpleaser/scene stealer/all-round charismatic and effortlessly funny guy here is Colin Smith (First Player and the English Ambassador), a long-time favourite of mine, and of this ensemble. You may have seen him recently in any number of QT productions. Is he a bit of a Brisbane darling? He can claim it. But everyone admirably plays their parts, injecting excellent energy with their highly physicalised characterisations and animated facial expressions juxtaposed against well considered dynamic stillness. The ensemble scenes are really great lessons in directing and sustaining focus. 

 

 

As the not-quite-as-bright Rosencrantz, Hardistry approaches the text lightly and sustains childlike commitment to every thought uttered aloud, while Poulier adds necessary weight to Guildenstern’s authoritarian manner. Their games are delightful and the wordplay is fast-paced and precisely directed, and so well practised there’s barely a stumble, even with the awkward pauses that allow for stifled giggles, snorts, whispered comments and LOLs from this student audience. These moments are also hilarious. At times it feels like LOLbar at Solbar (speaking of which, Josh Lyons, a special guest in our most recent production presented with Two Braids Collective, is a standout Player). We almost expect to hear a heckler’s comment from the crowd. But of course, everyone is very polite and well behaved, even when the witty references get a little bit naughty.

 

Hardistry and Poulier establish from the outset the kind of friendly intelligent/inane banter that drives a friend insane after long periods of it, and in fact this is what happens. It’s no spoiler, it’s Stoppard; there’s going to be conflict in the conversations, or where else? Guildenstern eventually takes umbrage with the innocent insistence of Rosencrantz to continue playing the same gorgeous, engaging, childish games, and discussing the same simple topics over and over and over and over…………. the very point, that there’s no point in insisting there is an end, until the end comes. And knowing their fate before they do, we feel some of the absurdity of life, and by the same token, the absurdity of wasting it by…waiting. 

 

 

The space, refreshingly reversed, means the audience is seated at the back and along the sides of the amphitheatre’s stage, and we see the scenes from Hamlet played out in the terraced seating bank. This keeps us appropriately distanced from these events, allowing us to consider our perception and/or judgement of Hamlet’s behaviour and how it is perceived by the Danish court, and that perhaps, as succinctly discussed in Jasper Jones, the greater the distance, the less we care.

 

The musicians are the versatile members of the company, and we find our way to our seats after passing them at the top of the stairs. The music is fantastic, adding merriment and a relaxed end-of-the-week (FRIYAY) mood before the fun and games even begin, even as we approach the amphitheatre, having crossed the footbridge to reach it and hearing the sounds long before seeing the band. Magical!

 

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead is a tough one to get right. Rebecca Murphy and QSE have created a highly entertaining and engaging contemporary production, succeeding in every aspect. Let’s hope it stays in the repertoire, giving us a chance to see it again sometime.