Fortune’s foolery

Romeo and Juliet (Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble)

Roma Street Parklands Amphitheatre

August 26 – September 12

It has taken the Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble until its twentieth birthday year to finally mount a full production of what is arguably Shakespeare’s best-known play, “Romeo and Juliet” and the outcome is most definitely worth the wait. Some would say that it’s hard to put a new twist on the oft-performed play, however, the window dressing of fresh interpretations are somewhat irrelevant, if respect is not shown to the original text. And of the many productions I have now seen of the tragic story of woe, this is the best in terms of making the original text accessible to a modern audience while, in many ways, recreating the experience of watching the work as Shakespeare meant it to be, with early acts bringing bawdy sexual innuendo and horseplay, and audience interaction (mostly from William Summers as an enthusiastic jester of sorts).

The cast speak Shakespeare with clarity, as if it’s easy to understand English and so this is what it becomes. They treat the language with a regard that is evident from the show’s very first scene. Enhancing this, a simple but clever set (design by QSE Artistic Director Rob Pensalfini), allows focus to remain where it should be. The ensemble’s return to the Roma Street Parkland also provides opportunity for the accompaniment of live musicians performing a live score (plus pre-show and interval entertainment), to build upon the emotions being portrayed on stage. And though the opening night environment may have meant competition from fireworks and passing parkland foot traffic (as well as some Act One lighting issues), the professionalism of all performers is such that they never even miss a beat.

The story begins in a Verona torn apart by the warring families of Montague and Capulet where the two star-crossed lovers of the tragedy’s title, push back against the expectations surrounding them and, in their greatest act of defiance, find unexpected love. Obviously, the performances of fortune’s fool Romeo and his true beauty Juliet are, therefore, integral to the merit of any production and, in this instance, Liliana Macarone as a gender-blind Romeo and Sarah Doyle as Juliet, do a commendable job.

Macarone makes for an obsessive Romeo who embraces the emotional rollercoaster of her character’s experience and is equally engaging whether in the intense giddy swagger of young love or a blind rage of attack on his sworn enemy Tybalt (John Siggers). Doyle gives us attitude without the oft-proportioned emo disposition. Her teenage hyperbole brings additional humour too in the reactions of Friar Lawrence (Rob Pensalfini) when Juliet arrives at the cleric’s cell melodramatically brandishing a knife and saying she will kill herself rather than marry Paris, leading to the plan that becomes the tragedy of the play’s end. Her portrayal of Juliet as being more angsty that brattish in her teenage sensibility gives us moments of identifiable parent and child interactions that relate her to, rather than alienate her from, audience members other than the usually aimed-at adolescent viewer.

Detailed care is taken to differentiate characters where actors are fulfilling multiple roles and apart from the over-caricature of Juliet’s father-approved suitor Paris, the rich texture of the play is mostly maintained. Siggers is both a firebrand, easily-angered Tybalt and an invested Friar John, unable to deliver word to Romeo as to Juliet’s plan to use a death-emulating potion to replicate her death. And there is certainly plenty of physical energy to Rebekah Schmidt’s engaging performance as Romeo’s mischievous cousin Mercutio, made all the more impressive by her then quick transformation into a poised Prince of Verona, concerned about maintaining the public peace at all costs. She not only allows us to relish in the saucy merchant’s delicious word play and double entendres but she doesn’t overplay his final moments in the character’s famous ‘a plague on both your houses’ decry. And though he does, as the Nurse banters, love to hear himself talk and will speak more in a minute than he will stand to in a month, in Schmidt’s hands, we could happily listen to him all day.

The witty interplay of mockery between Mercutio and Juliet’s nurse (Rebecca Murphy) not only serves to highlight the binary oppositions at the core of the play’s themes, but provides some of the production’s most pleasurable moments. Murphy is superb as Juliet’s devoted Nurse and comes close to stealing the show. She makes the comic character endearing rather than overbearing, as she so often is played, and though she is talkative throughout, her constant interjections and interruptions of herself, make her scenes, especially those in interplay with Juliet, a real treat. Indeed, the entire production manages to bring the funny at every opportunity, with actors using pace, pause, emphasis and accompanying gesture to effect to help its audience access the full meaning of the characters’ often layered dialogue.

With its abundant energy, Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble’s production of “Romeo and Juliet” is a solid and enjoyable performance of the play. While not everything works perfectly on opening night, the ensemble treats the text with reverence and sticks closely to its intentions even with its gender blind casting, proving just how robust the Bard’s work continues to be.

Wicked ways cometh by candlelight

Macbeth in the Dark (Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble)

Shakespeare’s notorious Scottish play is bloody business. The vital fluid is a motif that appears often in the stage play to emphasise guilt due to the cruelty of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s crimes. So how does “Macbeth” fare without this as a visual? Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble’s “Macbeth in the Dark” radio play version of the psychological tragedy (available on a pay-what-you-can basis via the company’s website) illustrates how the legacy of the Bard’s words is, in fact, more than sufficient to fill the visual void.  

The full length production with a running time of 120 minutes is an ambitious project that brings together a cast of ten actors playing over 25 different characters, original music, and the sound engineering wizardry of Dom Guilfoyle, under the direction of Kate Wilson. The use of sound creates a rich atmosphere for one of Shakespeare’s darkest plays. Indeed, the radio drama format builds its impression of the world of medieval Scotland by manipulating sound in companion with the suggested experience of listening in the dark, or at least by candlelight or in low lighting.

A supernatural soundscape enhances key scenes, with marker to the sinister appearance of mysterious and other-worldly aspects such the foreshadowing sounds of scavenger birds and foreboding noises of night’s dark cover, however, a sound bed under Macbeth’s (Rob Pensalfini) ‘is this a dagger?’ fatal vision suggestion of the horrid deed of regicide he is about to commit, detracts somewhat from the impact of his first soliloquised words.

The greatest clarity comes from one of the most notorious women in theatre as the ruthless Lady Macbeth (Rebecca Murphy) calmly reassures her husband’s rambling concerns about having murdered sleep by killing the gracious visiting King Duncan (Tom Coyle). In the early acts, she speaks clearly with a confidence befitting her noble hostess character’s accusatory and mocking manipulation and then urge to her husband to be the serpent under the innocent flower in order to realise his vaulting ambition. Appropriately, this turns into profound torment as later in the play she is plagued by guilty realisation that what’s done cannot be undone.

The play’s titular tragic hero speaks with conviction in determination to enact the scorpions of his mind to murder his dear, valiant friend Banquo (Angus Thorburn) lest the prophecies about his lineage reveal themselves to be true, which transforms easily into paranoia as he is haunted by the vision of his ghost as a banquet guest. Pensalfini also captures Macbeth’s changing psychological states and emotions, from his curiosity, amazement and tyrannous confidence in reaction to his misinterpretation of Act IV’s apparitions which tell of his apparent future invincibility, to his poignant final soliloquy’s contemplation of life’s lack of meaning. However, there is little tenderness to be taken from even the early scenes shared by the couple, which detracts from the isolation of the separate madnesses of the characters in the second half of the play.

With the power of prophecy, the witches (Ellen Hardisty, Leah Fitzgerald-Quinn and Liliana Macarone), meanwhile, speak with song-like rhythm in their rhyming couplet foresee of the future, producing a trance-like cacophony of sound the creates a haunting sense of ancient world magic. While it is disappointing not to hear the usual comic relief used in the scene with the Porter telling Macduff of the three things drink provokes, to break the tension, the company brings new depth to this classic, chilling tale of malevolence and terror. For example, the cries of Lady Macduff’s baby in the background make the climactic scene in which she and her son are murdered on Macbeth’s orders, especially shocking.

A radio play audience relies on actors’ voices and sound effects to comprehend the action; QSE does well with these conventions, which makes for an intellectual version of play in which performers not only deliver the verse with clarity and clearly understand what is being said, but appear to really feel the emotional intent of its dialogue. Unlike so many versions of this bloody tragedy, full of sound and fury, a radio play such as this allows a focus on dialogue and appreciation of the abundance of its phrases that now hold place in our vernacular. Without signposts as to changed scenes, familiarity with story and its characters is an advantage as, without any narration, it may be difficult to establish speaker identities and scene changes. While the poetic richness of Shakespeare’s language is enhanced through this solely-spoken genre, the soft-spoken nature of some of its dialogue delivery means that it is probably best experienced through headphones, in order to truly appreciate the new depths of anguish that the company bring to the tortured tale of Macbeth and his Lady.

and that’s a 2018 wrap


A quick pre-Christmas trip to Melbourne this week has not only give me my favourite theatre experience of the year in Calamity Jane, but provided a chance to reflect on a theatre year now done. Although still in the triple digits, I saw fewer shows in 2018 than in previous years, because…. Netflix. And, as usual, there have been many highlights, making it difficult to providing a definitive list of favourites. But reflective lists are what the end of a year is all about, so here is my eclectic top 10 of the memorable, the musical, the moving and the mirthful, and some honourable mentions.

  1. Calamity Jane – Encore Season (Arts Centre Melbourne in association with One Eyed Man Productions, Neglected Musicals and Hayes Theatre Co)
  2. Hamnet (Dead Centre) as part of Brisbane Festival
  3. Good Muslim Boy (Queensland Theatre and Malthouse Theatre)
  4. Everyday Requiem (Expressions Dance Company)
  5. Beautiful: The Carole King Musical (Michael Cassel in Association with Paul Blake & Song/ATV Music Publishing & Mike Bosner)
  6. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (The National Theatre)
  7. The Origin of Love – The Songs and Stories of Hedwig (John Cameron Mitchell)
  8. Home (Geoff Sobelle/Beth Morrison Projects) as part of Brisbane Festival
  9. At Last: The Etta James Story (Brisbane Powerhouse)
  10. The Sound of a Finished Kiss (Now Look Here and Electric Moon in partnership with Brisbane Powerhouse)

And mention also to the following highlights:

Best performance:

  • Virgina Gay as the titular feisty frontierswoman in Calamity Jane
  • Paul Capsis as 1970s gay icon, English writer, raconteur and actor Quentin Crisp in Resident Alien at the Brisbane Powerhouse as part of the 2018 Melt Festival of Queer Arts and Culture.

Best AV – A Christmas Carol (optikal bloc for shake & stir theatre co)

Most thought provoking –- Home (Geoff Sobelle/Beth Morrison Projects)

Best new work – The Sound of a Finished Kiss (Now Look Here and Electric Moon in partnership with Brisbane Powerhouse)

Best musical

  • Beautiful: The Carole King Musical (Michael Cassel in Association with Paul Blake & Song/ATV Music Publishing & Mike Bosner)
  • Big Fish – The Musical (Phoenix Ensemble)
  • Bare (Understudy Productions)

Best cabaret:

Best music – The Origin of Love – The Songs and Stories of Hedwig (John Cameron Mitchell)

Best dance – Everyday Requiem (Expressions Dance Company)

Funniest – Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead (Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble)

Most joyous – I’ve Been Meaning to Ask You (The Good Room)

Cleverest – North by Northwest (QPAC and Kay & McLean Productions)

Most moving – Hamnet (Dead Centre)

Worthy WW1 remembrance

The Blood Votes (Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble)

Holy Trinity Parish Hall

November 7 – 11

There is something special about the closing performance of The Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble’s short “The Blood Votes” season as the Sunday matinee takes place on November 11, the Centenary of the First World Ward Armistice. Experience of the historical theatre examination of the Australian conscription debates of World War One is saturated with an appealing authenticity beyond just this though. Fortitude Valley’s Holy Trinity Parish Hall is adorned with propaganda posters of the time and filled with era-evocative live piano sounds.


And so, to ensemble share of the patriotic Great War marching song, ‘Australia Will Be There’ we are rallied ’round the banner of our country to take the field with brothers’. As the cries of “God Save the King” fade away, we are told than it is 1915 and given description of the experience of Gallipoli from the troops’ perspective. The play, whose title is taken from a famous anti-conscription leaflet and poem of he time, is not about front however, but encounters closer to home, punctuated by reminder of key events and losses occurring overseas. And from its opening illustration of life in lead up to the first national conscription plebiscite, it is an absolutely fascinating journey and a worthy theatre experience.


The verbatim style work, written by Michael Futcher and directed by Rob Pensalfini, crafts together a narrative representation of the reality of home-front life at the time in Brisbane, in all of its guises, exposing and complicating the rhetoric of wartime sacrifice through its examination of multiple perspectives. While the Universal Service League of Women petition Prime Minister Billy Hughes to compel ‘dirty coward’ shirkers to support men overseas, state, social and moral pressure is also applied to meet government quotas, seen for example in the shocking reality of recruitment officer visitations to interview eligible over-18 men as yet unsigned up, such as Robert O’Neill (Dudley Powell). Though the scenarios and personalities of its stories represent a mix of real-life and dramatised creations, the social divisions produced by conscription are startlingly clear as families, friends, couples and communities are pressured and shamed, and, despite inflation, employers being boycotted to sack workers who fail to comply to the call to help those at the front exhausted and in need of reinforcements.


“It’s all political!”, Robert’s Irish mother Kathleen (Rebecca Murphy) exclaims during one such attempted recruiting officer interrogation. This short statement represents the most accurate summation of the show’s content. The complicated politics of the time add another layer to the complexity of the social issues of the era. Indeed, the work allows space for these elements to effectively co-exist with allusion to the lack of Labor Party support of the controversial PM and reference to the 1917 creation of the Australian Nationalist Party in merger between the Commonwealth Liberal Party and National Labor Party formed by Billy Hughes and his supporters after the Labor party split over conscription.

Certainly, the volatility of a time in which there was no neutral political space especially with a looming second plebiscite resulting in even more vitriolic and socially divisive campaigning, is clear. Its authenticity is understandable given the work’s origin. The QSE has been collaborating in partnership with historians from the University of Queensland’s Faculty of Humanities and Social Services who have themselves conducted years of research into the era in Brisbane. The primary and secondary source documentation of letters, newspaper reports and alike, make for a rich and rewarding theatre experience unlike any other.

Many familiar faces from QSE shows bring the work’s characters to life. Matthew Finkins captures the uncompromising passion of Prime Minister Billy Hughes, even though his character is mostly only seen delivering combative radio-bite rhetoric about the freedom of the empire. Ellen Hardisty and Dudley Powell work wonderfully together as young sweethearts Ruby and Robert, who just want to have kisses and cuddles, and intend to stick together no matter what. Meanwhile in a credit to her craft, Lilliana Macarone is absolutely unlikeable as the single-minded and emotionally manipulative Mrs Patterson, with sons fighting overseas and in need of conscripted assistance.


Also of particular note is Rebecca Murphy who jumps between Irish and ocker Australian characters and accents with ease. The majority of the cast change sometimes rapidly in and out of roles. Although they do it well, apart from occasional line lapses, there is something disjointed about the realisation due to confusion of seeing actors as conflicting characters in consecutive scenes. The nature of the hall’s stage set-up also serves as an early distraction with the sounds of its use initially competing with the show’s dialogue.


“The Blood Votes” is full of examination of rewarding themes and interesting ideas such as the evolution of the anti-war socialist movement of the Women’s Peace Army in Queensland. And it is rewarding to see women taking centre stage in strong, rational and eloquent debate. In particular, Paige Poulier exemplifies this in her portrayal of warrior peace angel Margaret Thorp, calling for the National Council of Women for persistent vigilance and challenge against the forces of militarism. While the different protective perspectives of the time’s women may be in some way expected, surprise comes from the involvement of the time’s institutions such as the church, ‘because sometimes praying is not enough’.

With so many layers to its truth, “The Blood Votes” is a work sure to evoke emotions, despite the audience luxury of retrospect, whether it be frustration at the loaded language of guilt from self-righteous moralisers, or shock at the still-formidable symbolism of a single white feather. There is also the power of recognition that the more things change the more they stay the same, as, under the War Precautions Act, a mother is arrested, without evidence, for being an enemy alien German with alleged association with anti-conscription agitators.

In its presentation of a piece of local history, “The Blood Votes” at once offers story behind our country’s glamorised Anzac mythology and taps into universal themes. It is, therefore, particularly pleasing to hear of plans to make teaching resources and video of the play available, for this is a work that needs to continue on in life beyond just this season.   

Roma Street R&G

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead (Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble)

Roma Street Parklands

August 23 – September 9


With the twilight of a Roma Street Parklands’ Sunday afternoon-into-nightfall hued in blue, the Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble’s band provides its evening’s audience with pre-show entertainment. Although this is so often the case for QSE shows, it is especially fitting for “Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead” given the speculative tragicomedy’s opening line…. “There is an art to the building up of suspense.”

The words come from Guildenstern (Paige Poulier) to Rosencrantz (Ellen Hardisty) as the two Elizabethans pass time betting on the toss of a coin. The duo are the bickering bit-players of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”, childhood friends of the Danish Prince traveling to Elsinore after having been summoned by the treacherous King Claudius (who murdered Hamlet’s father to obtain the throne), to distract the young Dane from his apparent madness and if possible discover its cause. Only in this instance they seem unaware of their role in the larger drama and confused by the play’s events, such is the nature of Tom Stoppard’s 1966 absurdist play, which expands upon the exploits of the courtiers.


The action takes place mainly ‘in the wings’ of Shakespeare’s play, with brief appearances of major characters from “Hamlet” who enact fragments of the original’s scenes. (The title is taken directly from the final scene of the Shakespearen text). Between these episodes the two protagonists voice their confusion at the progress of events occurring onstage without them. Then, after witnessing a performance of “The Murder of Gonzago”, they find themselves on a ship taking the exiled Prince Hamlet to England (if England even exists). They have intention to give the English king a letter instructing him to kill Hamlet. Instead, Hamlet discovers this and switches the letter for another. When the ship is attacked by pirates, Hamlet disappears and the letter is discovered to now include instruction to execute them (because what Shakespeare play is complete without a letter complication of some sort).

There is not a lot information given about the titular protagonists; there is expectation that viewers are familiar with Hamlet”, on which so much of its plot is based. So it clever to see the inside-out play cleverly featuring as part of a double bill, a first for the company, which sees the ensemble of 15 actors presenting it in ‘rep’ with “Hamlet”, alternating shows each night with actors playing the same role in both plays. And after experiencing their “Hamlet” first, (which is the recommended viewing order), there is an additional layer of appreciation that comes from seeing scene snippets play out identically as they did in the first instance. This also adds to audience contemplation as while in “Hamlet” we maybe disregarded Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, when they are condemned to death by the now-antagonist Hamlet (Silvan Rus), we are encouraged to consider them afresh. Indeed, it is interesting to see the Danish prince anew even though he has no new lines, only some extra scene-time during the journey to England.

Perhaps even more unfortunate than the concluding killing spree of “The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark” (to use the play’s complete title), is the misfortune of witnessing Rosencrantz and Guildenstern come to grips with their disposability as plot devices in the play. After all the frivolity of the night’s absurdity, there is a lingering sadness as they leave the stage with implication that they believe they will be given chance to live, frustrated by the lack of certainty as to if the characters are killed or not (they have, after all, spent the entire play misunderstanding their circumstances).


With such a range of emotions evoked, it is easy to appreciate the play’s function as a metaphor for the absurdity of life. As the enigmatic leader of the travelling actors (Colin Smith) observes, ‘life is a gamble, at terrible odds—if it was a bet you wouldn’t take it. While the theatre of the absurd may be characterised by its ignorance of traditional structures and (literal) ridiculousness, in “Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead” The QSE has made the style all the more accessible to even the most reluctant of audience members; the modern-classic is as funny as even in its quick and clever word play, and volleying dialogue delivery. The pace only wanes slightly after intermission, however, this is due more to the script than the energy of the protagonists’ performances.


Poulier starts strongly as the smarter-of-the-two Guildenstern in speculation that the two have entered an alternate universe, in which normal laws of probability, time, and chance do not apply. Despite spending most of the play in bafflement as Rosencrantz (often needing reminder even as to personal identity), Hardisty brings much humour to the role, especially in a ‘game of questions’ during which the pair maintain a dialogue of asking questions back and forth for as long as possible, without making any declarative statement, in which she uses physicality to heighten competitiveness to great comic effect.  of questions physicality to competitiveness. Also a standout is Colin Smith as the First Player, prancing about the stage in attempt to lewdly pimp out and provoke interest in his troupe band, collectively known as the Tragedians. He milks every bit of wit from his character’s speeches, entertaining with his every movement, gesture, look and facial expression. And it is wonderful to see more of the troupe’s melodrama in rehearsal of the play within a play to catch the conscience of the king.


Whereas Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” is a tragedy with minor moments of comedy, “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead” is a comedy with occasional moments of tragedy and there are a lot of deep philosophical truths evident in its nonsensical ramblings. This means that although its irreverence is central, the play often sways into big themes around life’s complexities, about morality and death as the ultimate negative (in addition to the dangers of going on a trip on a ship) and in amongst its continual questions and mixed metaphor word plays, there are a lot of meta-theatre mentions for audience appreciation.


In the hands of the Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble, the juxtapositions of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s misadventures and musings are highly entertaining. Additionally, there is also the appeal of the play’s location; like always, the unique Roma Street Parkland setting aesthetics contribute much to the experience, such as when scenes end with the travelling troupe of performers dispersing into the night or, on Sunday night, when the show features a possum assuming a short-lived starring role.

Princely play

Hamlet (Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble)

Roma Street Parklands

August 23 – September 9


I love “Hamlet”; it is my preferred Shakespearean tragedy and visiting its Kronborg Castle setting was my favourite of all days when touristing in Denmark. There is something rotten in the Denmark state of this ultimate revenge drama though. After his father’s death, Prince Hamlet (Silvan Rus) is overlooked for the crown in favour of his uncle, Claudius (Ben Prindable), who has not only killed Hamlet’s father but married his mother Gertrude (Liliana Macarone). In the complicated plot the follows the Danish Prince feigns (or perhaps not) insanity, kills his ‘girlfriend’ Ophelia’s (Sarah Doyle) father, the elderly Lord Chamberlain Polonius (Frances Marrington), drives Ophelia to madness, directs a play within a play and take revenges on his uncle, at the cost of almost every life on stage.

other players.jpg

From the outset, Hamlet suspects foul play around his uncle’s coronation, which is confirmed to audiences as the Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble production begins with a ghost. With Hamlet’s loyal friend Horatio (Dudley Powell) as witness, the apparition of Hamlet’s father appears, evocatively lit against backdrop of the Roma Street parklands (as both audience are seated and the majority of the performance takes place on its amphitheatre stage). Abridged a little (because who has time for all 4000 lines of this, the Bard’s longest play), but with only authenticity in those scenes that are presented, this “Hamlet”, under the direction of Rob Pensalfini makes some interesting choices, particularly in play with the characters. Although in his famous Act Three nunnery scene ‘soliloquy’, the Prince ponders the pain and unfairness of life as ‘the question’, uncertainty is evident in many characters whose worlds have shifted.


Minor characters bring much to their moments on stage. And as the new King, Prindable makes for an almost likeable, more than calculating Claudius. Still, he is very statesmanlike in his manner, enunciating the text well, which sees the show off a solid start. Also notable is Powell, as the harbinger of truth, Horacio, Hamlet’s one true confidant. Together they balance each other’s essential sensibilities, in scenes that ground the play in reality. Indeed, their relationship is interestingly the one that conveys the most on-stage chemistry.


Rus is exciting to watch in one of the most challenging of titular roles. His idiosyncratic energy never wanes as he speaks more (by a ratio of two to one) than any other character of the Shakespeare canon. Initially emotional and then apparently quite mad, his Hamlet is far from an original-emo type protagonist. Instead of wallowing in melancholy, he is the ultimate anti-hero, intensely passionate in both contemplation and sardonic contempt, but also ambitious and unreliable due to his own destructive mindset. And Rus’s stagecraft is impressive, especially in Act Five’s sword fight with an avenging Laertes (Nick Rijs), which thanks to Justin Palazzo-Orr’s fight direction serves as a real highlight. Gender blind casting sees Marrington as Polonoius, who not only shares the introspective but ironic maxim ‘to thine own self be true’, but interacts energetically with the audience without necessarily entirely breaking the fourth wall, which both adds humour and enhances authenticity.

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Comedy features throughout the work. The Gravedigger fool (Rebecca Murphy) of the tragedy’s final act, provides some delightfully simple but effective visual comedy and also quick-witted dialogue with Hamlet ahead (#punintended) of discovery of the skull of the castle’s beloved jester Yorick. And, as has been the case in many of QSE’s previous shows, there is a deliberate emphasis of the play’s crude puns. As he flirts with madness, Hamlet is persistent and less-than-subtle in his inappropriate humour, in revelation of his fundamental sanity. But humour is found not only in dialogue, but also in the physicality added to the spaces in between the script’s words. And the melodramatic re-enactment by players of Hamlet’s fathers’ death in a play within the play, “The Murder of Gonzago”, about a murder in Vienna, is a real riot.

Live music is also again used to memorable effect, transitioning scenes and evoking an apt emotional palette. Although staging is sparse, there is an apparent attention to detail down to the prominence of Danish flags always on stage in show of the macro politics at play along with the narrative’s essential family dynamics. Setting also again serves almost as a character itself with the eerie shadows and sounds of a wintery parkland adding to the atmosphere (rug up for a comfortable experience).


Not only was “Hamlet” one of William Shakespeare’s most popular works during his lifetime, but it still ranks among his most performed, so one could easily label it a safe production choice, with which a company can’t go wrong. This is, however, far from true, although not in this instance. Not only have the Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble presented an engaging take on one of the most powerful and influential works of world literature, but in a first for the company, the ensemble of 15 actors will present it in ‘rep’ with “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead”, Tom Stoppard’s absurdist, existential tragicomedy expansion upon the exploits of the two (minor) courtier characters from “Hamlet”, alternating shows each night with actors playing the same role in both plays. As Rozencrantz himself says, “their endeavor keeps in the wonted pace” and as audiences we can only reap the benefits of the company’s ambitious 2018 parkland provocations.