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)

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.

Long Live Rosencrantz and Guildenstern

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (Sydney Theatre Company)

Sydney Theatre

August 6 – September 7


There are many reasons why “Hamlet” can justifiably be decreed as one of the greatest plays of all time. Shakespeare’s tragic tale of the young Danish prince holds an enduring appeal; the play provides incisive insights into life and the human experience. But there is comedy as well as contemplation. The way Hamlet mocks Polonius, Rosencrantz, Guildenstern and Claudius by feigning lunacy, for example, is jocular.

But who exactly are these “Hamlet” bit-players, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern?  This is exactly what Tom Stoppard’s “Rozencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead” sets out to explore. And it is a superb premise for a very funny drama of confusion and word play, bringing together Tim Minchin and Toby Shmitz in a Sydney Theatre Company coup.

It is inspired casting. Schmitz is commanding in the role of Guildenstern, giving an outstanding performance of philosophical reflection with Jack Sparrowesque appeal, while Minchin’s innocent, naïve silliness as Rozencrantz charmingly presents the other side of the coin. Their camaraderie creates a clear connection and together they work wonderfully to perfectly present pun and pathos alike. This is especially evident in the scenes that see the characters playing a verbal tennis game where they lob questions at each other in an attempt to find order in the chaos. Words of wit and default wisdom tumble delightfully in a rhythmic cavalcade of double entredres, allusions and puns for the audience’s lingering consideration beyond the play’s poignant conclusion.

The protagonists have little memory, no understanding of what they are doing and a concern that life is pre-determined (aka scripted). They exist merely as accessories to another narrative, characters who pop in, do their bit and disappear again. What happens to them between scenes? As the gravediggers struggle to realise identity and purpose in a world that makes little sense, the play balances between absurdist theatre and slapstick humour in a manner that can be enjoyed by anybody and appreciated by “Hamlet” enthusiasts. This is complemented by the production’s bold staging. The set design is minimalist and post-modern, but incredibly interesting, using a steeply sloped stage and a series of tunnels into the wings through which “Hamlet” players enter and exit, which conveys the feel of being stuck in a piece of existential art.

“Rozencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead” is a genius play as it builds upon the “Hamlet” concept of a play within a play by presenting a play on the periphery of a play (fragments of the actual action of “Hamlet” taking place in the background). Indeed, it is conceptual, verbose and quick-witted, resulting in captivating chaos, challenge and ultimately poignancy of the most entertaining order.