Tom Stoppard took a Shakespeare classic and turned it inside out when he created Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead.
The Tony award-winning production is playing at Calgary’s Martha Cohen Theatre where director Glynis Leyshon has followed Stoppard’s lead by adding some twists of her own.
To start, she cast local actors Myla Southward and Julie Orton in the title roles. That’s right: two females are playing male characters.
“Obviously, two women playing Rosencrantz and Guildenstern brings an entirely new element to the piece, which is terrific,” Leyshon said.
Indeed it does, particularly with the casting of stage veterans, Orton and Southward, who have acted together before — but never quite like this.
“We are usually in competition with each other for roles because there are fewer roles for ladies, there’s also fewer roles this size for ladies and there’s also fewer roles in comedies for ladies,” said Orton. “So for us, this is a tremendous opportunity for us to be funny together.”
A play within a play, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead takes two lesser-known characters from a Shakespeare classic and puts them centre stage.
“We are two minor characters from Hamlet who find ourselves sort of questioning our existence and what we’re doing here,” explained Southward, “and having maybe an existential crisis together while also keeping it light and fun and comedic at the same time.”
The duo joins a cast of talented actors who have been tasked with playing multiple characters — another Leyshon twist.
“When the play was premiered, there was over 30 people in the cast. It was an enormous production,” said Leyshon. “And we’re doing this with a lean, mean and extremely talented ensemble of 10.”
Many of the actors, like Christopher Hunt who plays the mandolin, are also musicians. All are singers too, giving the play what Leyshon calls “a wonderful, textured soundscape that is unique to this production.”
The final twist from Leyshon deals with the theatre itself, which has returned to thrust configuration. Seats have been removed and the stage has been extended allowing a more intimate and immersive audience experience.
“ breaks that imaginary fourth wall and thrusts into the audience and you are literally engaging with them,” said Leyshon. “They are literally two feet from you.”
A partnership between ATP and The Shakespeare Company, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead runs until Oct. 21. Ticket information can be found on ATP’s website.
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