Pop-Up Globe, Bard's Yard, 38 Greys Avenue, CBD, Auckland

11/04/2016 - 11/04/2016

SOUTHERN CROSS GARDEN BAR, 39 Abel Smith St, Wellington

24/04/2016 - 24/04/2016

The Dark Room, Cnr Pitt and Church Street, Palmerston North

30/04/2016 - 01/05/2016

Meteor Theatre, 1 Victoria Street, Hamilton

03/05/2016 - 05/05/2016

The Boat Café, Freyberg Lagoon, Oriental Bay, Wellington

21/05/2016 - 27/05/2016

Production Details

“Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounced it to you, trippingly on the tongue …” 

400 years after Shakespeare’s death, The Lord Lackbeards Touring Company mix conventions from our time and his to create an intoxicating interpretation of his most immortal work.

For one day only, to begin its North Island tour, The Lord Lackbeards bring their Hamlet to the Pop-Up Globe Auckland. In a reversal, or photo negative, of productions that use the historically accurate convention of only male actors, they present a Hamlet with an all female cast. Continuing the conversation between past and present, this production combines an Elizabethan approach to staging and text with modern physical theatre techniques and costuming.

Struggling to come to terms with his father’s death and mother’s remarriage to his uncle, Hamlet encounters his father’s ghost. Shaken and confused, unsure of what to believe, Hamlet turns to the audience to find the meaning of existence. Embracing the complexities of human nature from tragic to comic, this production isn’t afraid to laugh at the absurdities of the human condition.

In this, the 21st Century, The Lord Lackbeards look past and through time and gender to see how Shakespeare’s Hamlet calls out to our common humanity.

“Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines” 

The Lord Lackbeards Touring Company

Auckland: Pop-up Globe Theatre, Bard’s Yard, 38 Greys Avenue
Mon 11 Apr, 1:00pm @ 7:00pm (90 mins)

Southern Cross Garden Bar, Abel Smith St, Wellington
Sunday April 24, 5pm

Palmerston North: The Dark Room
Saturday, April 30th
Hamlet at 3:30pm
Sunday, May 1st
Hamlet at 7:30pm

Hamilton: The Meteor
Tuesday, May 3rd
Hamlet at 7pm
Thursday, May 5th
Hamlet at 7pm

Gisborne: Tairawhiti Museum
Saturday, May 7th
Hamlet at 3:30pm

Wairarapa: Gladstone Vineyard
Saturday, May 14th
Hamlet at 4pm 

Wellington: The Boat Café, Freyberg Lagoon, Oriental Bay   
Saturday, May 21st
Hamlet at 4pm
Wednesday, May 25th
Hamlet at 7pm
Friday, May 27th
Hamlet at 7pm  

Wellington: Whitireia Performance Centre 
Thursday, June 2nd
Hamlet at 7:30pm
Saturday, June 4th
Hamlet at 7:30pm  

Hamlet - Deborah Eve Rea
Claudius / Ghost / Player - Ania Upstill
Polonius / Bernardo / Pirate - Alida Steemson
Gertrude / Gravedigger / Player  - Sabrina Martin
Ophelia / Player - Catriona Tipene
Horatio / Rosencrantz - Iris Henderson
Laertes / Guildenstern / Francisco / Player King - Katie Boyle
Marcellus / Player / Player Queen / Gravedigger 2 - Pippiajna Jane

Director - Ania Upstill
Producer and Associate Director - Julia Campbell
Costume Designer - Declan Callaghan
Costume Assistant - Sharon Callaghan
Vocal and Acting Coach - Shannon Friday
Choreographer - Brigid Costello

Theatre ,

A very articulate production

Review by Patrick Davies 30th May 2016

The Boat Café is not the first place I would consider for a performance of Shakespeare but it turns out to be a great venue.

On entering I cannot help but think of the voyage that Hamlet, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern will make later in the play. We are downstairs in the function room, the dance floor a slightly raised stage, seats set in front with some for the more adventurous on the sides of the stage. A wall of curtain is our backdrop and two working lights illuminate everything.

The cast are moving around the space and we are entertained by guitar and song. This production has travelled to the Pop-Up Globe and other centres in the North Island and, as the travelling players, the Lord Lackbeards have found a space and are ready to entertain.

This is a very articulate production with each of the eight actors clearly understanding their text, character and narrative arc. The words are easy to hear and delivered with clear motivations that make the story clip along at a good pace.

The eclectic collage of costumes (Declan and Sharon Callaghan) are more to denote character than any one locale or genre: Hamlet in ubiquitous black; Rosencrantz and Guildenstern as hippies; Polonius as a walking Toby Jug … Each attuned to the style and presentation of each character. While this gives a vibrant indication of character type it does lessen the feel of a coherent court structure. Sometimes status is lost to characters by proximity in this small space and the dissonance in some costumes against others takes our mind out of the Court of Elsinore. But more of that anon.

There is more a sense of the travelling players performing Hamlet than that of a naturalistic production. The Elizabethan style works well in that the story flows from scene to scene and each locale relies only on the words (and the odd chair) to tell us where we are. It does feel as though this is a larger production in a smaller playing space than the company is used to.

At times the volume assails the senses and the mostly motivated movement verges on movement for movement’s sake. On a roomier stage, and with the need to ‘share the story’ around the audience, this may not have been a problem, but here, on a shorter stage, I sometimes long for actors to keep still or motivate their movement better. It is because this is a small space that we notice things so much the more.

This is also one of the joys of this production. Because the characters and story are strongly given dimension, we have time to experience themes and motifs of Hamlet. We can markedly compare two sons need for revenge; Hamlet’s feigned madness against Ophelia’s actual madness; two Kings at opposite ends of the spectrum; Horatio’s friendship in relief against Rosencrantz and Guildensterns’; Claudius vs Polonius as fathers; the dishonourable deaths and relegation to Hell of Hamlet snr and Ophelia.

History reflects itself throughout the play. It is because of the strengths of Ania Upstill’s direction that we feel the impact of these events and their consequences more than the characters. Of course they are there in the text, but it takes work to make these aspects present for an audience.

Each actor works well with the others to make this an ensemble piece. Alida Steemson’s Polonius is the comic relief with some well-timed interruptions and interpretations. Pippiajna Tui Jane’s Osric is a revelation; usually played as in on the plot, this Osric is a light touch against the angst and anger of the last act.

Iris Henderson and Katie Boyle double Horatio/ Rosencrantz and Laertes/ Guildenstern to great effect. Henderson is wonderful as Horatio, not only providing an anchor in the storm but also she has the best technique in delivering the text.

Claudius (Ania Upstill) is a strong King and Upstill takes every chance to hint at the black deeds roiling underneath. When it all goes wrong there’s a breathy desperation that keeps the tension tight as he tries to rid himself of Hamlet.

Sabrina Martin’s Gertrude is expedience with a dash of mum. She keeps the peace and only when confronted by Hamlet does she see what is really going: some great work from Martin here.

Catriona Tipene’s Ophelia starts strongly and it is frightening to see a young girl unaware of the manipulation of her position by others. Tipene lets us see that Ophelia is unaware of her role as chattel and makes her degradation that much more horrible. Though the mad scene doesn’t do it for me, from a young, supple youth Ophelia suddenly seems to have a lot of inner strength in being mad which doesn’t come across as substantiated by her earlier personality.

Hamlet is a mountain of a part not to be taken lightly and Deborah Eve Rea’s Hamlet is a solid one. The part drives this play and Rea takes us through this revenge tale with energy and verve. And here is where I pause. The style of the production is ‘travelling players’ and there is an aspect of declamation to a lot of the cast’s work, rather than, say, an emotionally driven performance. This Hamlet is clear on what he wants and needs to do, I understand and hear all the words (except when forced emotion leads to shouting). Because there is such understanding of motivation and meaning, the words carry the story well.

However it makes the techniques required to perform Shakespeare’s Hamlet that much more bare.  It feels practiced and ready to go rather than motivated by events and revealed information. When the late King confirms what Hamlet suspects – that he was murdered – the words do all the work and we don’t get the emotional punch to the stomach.

The soliloquies feel very samey in that the emotion is performed rather than felt – each has their build in mostly the same way. These solos track the arc and perspective of Hamlet and Upstill could have better aided Rea by finding the difference in the music behind each speech.

That being said it is only because there are many strengths to this production that these aspects of performative delivery begin to stand out all the more. This is a very good production and I look forward to their Ophelia Thinks Harder

[Patrick was going to review Ophelia Thinks Harder on Saturday but it was cancelled due to illness – ed.]


Deborah Eve Rea May 30th, 2016

Thanks for the review Patrick. The unbelievably intrusive sound from upstairs, which you were very polite not to mention, unfortunatly made it impossible for me to use any softness or pause- or even to hear each other on stage at times. What a battle that was for us all! I'm very much looking forward to performing at Whitireia Theatre rather than the Boat Cafe next week ;)

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Inspirational work

Review by Jan-Maree Franicevic 04th May 2016

I have heard of the Lord Lackbeards Touring Company, however have not seen one of their shows before. As my friend and fellow Shakespeare fan Frances and I enter the Meteor Theatre, I am high with nerves in anticipation of what we will find before us this evening.

While Hamlet is certainly not my favourite of Shakespeare’s many works, it is one of my top five – for the words, mostly. We are all aware that many a weighty phrase has travelled from the 1600s into present day vernacular. (Musician and producer, Malcom McLaren, transformed the play’s great soliloquy, “To be or not to be…” into a cutting edge pre-millennium rap mix* which is an enduring favourite of mine, to this day.)*

In reverse of the traditional all-male cast, The Lord Lackbeards present their version of Hamlet with an all-female cast. Further contrasting the past with the present, they claim to present their show with Elizabethan staging and text, interwoven (seamlessly as I am to experience) with modern physical theatre techniques and costuming. 

I am surprised that there are so few folk (Hamilton, where are you?) making their way into the auditorium, which is simply dressed. We meet our players, who are candidly performing warm up exercises, dressed in jackboots, flat front suit pants and white shirts – I’d describe this as masculine depression era garb – under universal lighting.

The stage is bordered on three sides by seating. We choose to sit front and centre. 

From the very first words I am arrested! This cast appears well rehearsed and calm as they flick-flack through their very true-to-the text version of Hamlet. Never has proper, traditional Shakespeare been so EASY to understand. I am a firm believer that if Shakespeare is done well, the language is no barrier to full comprehension.

So easily bobbing along – and keeping time with – the show, we are made to feel a part of the show; the effective delivery of the text gives us leave to follow and enjoy all of the beautiful physicality of the play.   

Staging is minimal: three curtains from which our players emerge, with a tricky wee passage through the middle which is (without spoiling) used exceptionally well. In any Shakespeare, I find, there must always be a good place to hide, as a great deal of plot development occurs in the lurking and eavesdropping, conspiring and spying activities of integral characters. Other than the curtain, there are two chairs, not necessarily used at one time. 

I am impressed by the players’ ability give such an ebullient performance, utilizing themselves as their best props. There is a LOT of standing around. Usually this frustrates me, as it is by and large poorly done, and thus appallingly boring. Not so here: these women know how to fill up a stage! All are so physically aware; the show is so well directed (by Ania Upstill) and choreographed (by Brigid Costello), that, as the text dances, so do our players and there is no ‘talking heads syndrome’. This delights me! 

Costuming is minimal also, and done so effectively. Hearty congratulations to costume designer Declan Callaghan, and assistant Sharon Callaghan, for interpreting not only the look and feel of the show, but also respecting the need for a touring company to travel light. Effective use of colour, texture and plush fabrics gives each character their uniqueness, a great complement to our players, the most of who have more than one role in the play. 

It is gob-smacking how skillfully the players move between their characters, each given it’s own identity and life, right down to the potentially show-stealing gravediggers who, in their easy, silly way, make their short scene one that Frances and I will recall for years to come. 

Our Hamlet (played ably by Deborah Eve Rea) is delicately insane in his grief at the passing of his father, the king. He broods, lurches, rails and shouts in a series of desperately masculine attempts to deal with his loss – ultimately vengeance is key. I have a great mixture of compassion and disgust for Hamlet – tonight more than ever as this Hamlet is so brilliantly delivered.

But then so is each of the Lackbeards great. Alida Steemson charmingly plays Polonius: I get a proper sense of the doting father who is conversely a folly, at the mercy of the court. Ophelia is maniacally adorable, played with strength and skill by Catriona Tipene.

Our Rosencrantz (Iris Henderson) and Guildenstern (Katie Boyle) are proper lads, played with subtle camaraderie.

King Claudius (played by Ania Upstill) is a conniving and slick: a strong and effortless performance.  Gertrude is played as the doting, slightly dotty matriarch: desirous of peace, but unable to ignore the chaos unfolding in her house. Nicely done by Sabrina Martin.

Artistic Director Ania Upstill and Producer Julia Campbell’s Lord Lackbeards Touring Company have a solid hit on their hands here. Their cast of stellar players have been well endowed and strongly governed to deliver outstanding performances with emotion, passion and skill.  

Inspirational work. One more night (Thursday) and well worth the ticket price.
 – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
*’II Be or Not II Be’ featuring MC Hamlet
Malcolm McLaren presents The World Famous Supreme Team Show
Round the Outside! Round the Outside!
Virgin Records, 1990. 


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Intelligently wrought, consummately performed

Review by Adam Dodd 01st May 2016

The Lord Lackbeards Touring Company draws upon traditions new and old, conserving an Elizabethan approach to staging and text while exploring modern physical theatre techniques and reversing the historical convention to stage their productions with an all female cast.

Continuing on from a sold-out engagement at Auckland’s Pop Up Globe, their ‘Escape from the Nunnery’ tour is bringing performances of both Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Jean Betts’ Ophelia Thinks Harder to stages around the North Island from April 30th to May 14th, 2016.

The Lord Lackbeards’ performance of Hamlet is one of textured characterisations, each character is individual and has a knowing familiarity with the others that invokes the history and existing bonds between them. This is all the more impressive as but eight actors take on the roles between them, managing well the hasty transitions and costume changes necessary for this feat. 

Each member of the troupe distinguishes themselves through-out the performance. The Lord Lackbeards on a whole demonstrate agile command of the text and ability to convey intent and meaning: Alida Steemson’s caricature of Polonius’ and presence; Pippiajna Tui Jane’s appearances as Osric / Player / Gravedigger breathe life into her scenes; Iris Henderson and Katie Boyle render Horatio and Laertes each with earnest affection, both also brilliantly capture Rosencrantz and Guildenstern as insular and awkward.  

Deborah Eve Rea’s Hamlet is nuanced, developing a fluent multiplicity that well encompasses the emotional complexity of the character. At times this feels too practiced, with crafted movements suggesting a manic edge overly deliberate. That said, Rea brings to Hamlet a insular angst quick to be provoked to perverse humour or joviality by those around him. 

Catriona Tipene’s Ophelia is a portrait of obedience barely constraining her devastating pain as she is carelessly employed by her father Polonius, Claudius, and also Hamlet. This rendition is strained at moments but contrasting her lack of agency with Hamlet’s north-north-west wind gives Ophelia a depth and believability that is oft lacking in performance. Tipene’s breadth still yet only becomes apparent as Ophelia descends into madness; here Tipene’s portrayal finds its voice, stricken and haunting. 

The Lord Lackbeards’ Hamlet is a study in the untenable situations each player is thrust into as they maneuver through the wake of one monstrous act. It is a fantastic piece on its own, but there’s more. Pairing Shakespeare’s classical isBetts’ more contemporary work Ophelia Thinks Harder. 

Intelligently wrought, consummately performed, both Hamlet and Ophelia Thinks Harder run at just under two and a half hours. If you miss them in Palmerston North, I hope you get a chance to see them elsewhere as the tour continues. 


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