Things get meta in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead – a story written to exist within the throes of Hamlet. Bringing the two productions together, Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble (QSE) is ambitiously staging both performances this month, serving up a double dose of tragedy, farce and existential thought.
In the background of Shakespeare's tales, there is a host of interesting characters worthy of deeper exploration. Following the premiere of Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead in 1966, two such characters had their time in the spotlight.
“Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead is a tale for anyone who has ever felt out of their depth and in over their head – so everyone, really,” says QSE Director Rebecca Murphy.
The story focuses on friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern – two characters used as pawns by Hamlet. They exist in the fringes of Hamlet, but are given a voice as they come to terms with betrayal and their tragic fate in Stoppard’s absurd tragicomedy.
Though Stoppard’s witty tale can stand alone, it is anchored by Hamlet – and so this month Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble will present both productions in rep, with the same cast in each performance. That means the company will alternate between the two shows each night of the season.
“Hamlet will reflect our own stories for as long as each generation seeks to define itself in contrast to the last, and to make its mark on the world,” says QSE Director Rob Pensalfini on the contemporary relevance of Hamlet. “As we try to forge a new path, we must recognise that we are still shaped by what has gone before.”
Ahead of the premiere, the cast shares what it’s like to inhabit two sides of the same coin.
Silvan Rus: Hamlet
To play the same character in two productions is like hearing two witnesses tell the same story, each with variations of the same thing.
My role in both is not particularly different, in that the lines I speak as Hamlet are exactly the same in Stoppard's play. However, Stoppard has in some scenes a very specific reimagining of how a scene unfolds with the words that Shakespeare wrote.
Ellen Hardisty: Rosencrantz
I've been able to play with what is the same and what is different between the two versions of Rosencrantz. It's helped me add character depth, as I can draw on the experience Rosencrantz has in both shows.
For example, in Hamlet Rosencrantz tells Hamlet about the (terrible) child theatre troupes that are currently so popular in Denmark. In Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, Rosencrantz hears and sees first-hand the impact these children are having on established actors.
Paige Poulier: Guildenstern
Although Guildenstern is a minor character in Hamlet, his very existence in Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead is staked within the realm of the Hamlet world, so even though they are different plays, both worlds are extremely interconnected!
I quickly found that working in both plays simultaneously, I was able to make discoveries and links within the language, action, scene sequence and themes that I might not have recognised otherwise.
QSE is presenting each show with a live band and is also bringing back the A Night At The Theatre initiative, which donates tickets to people who do not have financial access to live theatre.
23 August to 9 September
The Amphitheatre, Roma Street Parkland
More information and tickets