Posts Tagged ‘tom stoppard


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.




Tim Minchin and Toby Schmitz: interview


The fabulous Jo Litson, with whom I had the pleasure of chatting at the Noosa Long Weekend Festival this year, has put up an awesome interview with Tim Minchin and Toby Schmitz.


I loved Toby’s Hamlet, at La Boite in 2010, and I’m glad I got to see Tim’s Judas this year at Boondall. I ‘reckon these two together on stage in Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead will be absolutely the best thing about STC this year (and I can say that, after seeing The Maids and Mrs Warren’s Profession. No. I still haven’t written about them). It is indeed “a casting coup”. Do you have tickets?


Of course I’m just as excited as everybody else about seeing Matilda in Australia, but also, I just love the tone of this interview, so I wanted to share it here.


If you follow this blog you must already follow Jo’s – Scene and Heard


Toby Schmitz and Tim Minchin. Photo: James Penlidis/Ellis Parrinder


Tim Minchin and Toby Schmitz: interview.



Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead

Brisbane Arts Theatre

28th April – 26th May 2012

Reviewed by Suzannah Bentley

Before I went along to see Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, I did what most reviewers do: consulted Wikipedia. I had heard of this play, and of the playwright Tom Stoppard, but didn’t know much about it except that it was somehow linked to Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The first line of the Wikipedia entry certainly piqued my interest, reading ‘Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead is an absurdist, existentialist tragicomedy’. Before last night, my experience of absurdist theatre was limited to a turn as Vladimir in a scene from Beckett’s Waiting for Godot in high school drama.

For the uninitiated, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead follows the story of two minor characters from Shakespeare’s Hamlet (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, obviously). The concept kind of reminded me of those TV series mash-ups that were popular in the eighties and nineties where characters from one series would pop up in another and your mind would be a little bit blown by the colliding of what previously seemed like two discrete worlds. At the beginning of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, the title characters stand alone on stage marveling at the laws of probability and trying to piece together how they came to be where they are (although they’re not sure where that is).

Although the title characters never seem to figure out which of them is Rosencrantz and which is Guildenstern, the program reveals that the character played by David Mines is Rosencrantz, and Daniel Frawley is Guildenstern. As soon as the curtain opens, Mines and Frawley clearly establish their characters. Mines use of high-pitched vocals and slapstick physicality shows the audience that Rosencrantz is the silly, innocent, and acquiescent member of this odd-couple pairing. As Guildenstern, Frawley brings reason, composure, and direction to the pairing, as well as a healthy dose of pessimism to contrast with Rosencrantz’s eternal optimism. A journey with a yin-yang pair of confused courtiers has begun, and the audience settles in to watch them piece together the part they are to play in the narrative workings of Hamlet.

Soon, a band of players (Tragedians, as they call themselves) arrives. Led by the charismatic and vibrant Vanja Matula as their leader, The Player. This strange assortment of players appears throughout the play to teach Rosencrantz and Guildenstern about the nature of theatre and tragedy. The Tragedians bring physical comedy and colourful costumes to the stage and help to re-engage the audience when the bare set and presence of only Rosencrantz and Guildenstern might become stagnant.

As the play continues, various characters familiar to us from Hamlet make cameo appearances and provide Rosencrantz and Guildenstern with clues as to the purpose and progression of their story. Soon we meet Hamlet himself, played with rage-fuelled energy by Stephen Smith. Hamlet’s mother and uncle (Ellen Hardisty and Ryan Goodwin) draw laughter with their cringe-inducing make-out sessions and perpetual drinking. More familiar Shakespearean characters (including Polonius and Ophelia) drop by and the plot thickens.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead consists of three acts, with an interval between the second and third. The third act sees a change of setting from somewhere in Hamlet’s castle to a ship bound for England. The only props used to denote this location are three barrels. The minimalist set design and the message of the Tragedians is used to remind the audience of the tenuous nature of theatre and its otherness from reality.

Brisbane Arts Theatre’s production of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead was an interesting introduction to Stoppard’s renowned and acclaimed play. I felt that perhaps it was a bit long of a production to be tackled by a small company like Brisbane Arts Theatre, and at times it seemed to lag. However, highlights for me were the fun use of props and sound (the violin, swords, and fabric used in the Tragedians’ re-enactment of The Murder of Gonzago was very clever), Vanja Matula’s colourful and eye-catching portrayal of the hilarious Player (cool pants, too!), and the constant friction between Rosencrantz and Guildenstern which Mines and Frawley managed to maintain throughout. There are certainly far worse ways to spend a rainy Brisbane night than to experience your first absurdist, existentialist tragicomedy courtesy of Brisbane Arts Theatre’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.