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

30/04/2016 - 01/05/2016

Meteor Theatre, 1 Victoria Street, Hamilton

04/05/2016 - 04/05/2016

The Boat Café, Freyberg Lagoon, Oriental Bay, Wellington

21/05/2016 - 28/05/2016

Whitireia Performance Centre, 25-27 Vivian Street, Wellington

03/06/2016 - 03/06/2016

Production Details

Created 400 years after Shakespeare’s death, Ophelia Thinks Harder by Jean Betts (and William Shakespeare) is a vibrantly subversive, irreverent and feminist interpretation of his famous work.

Based on Hamlet, but with all the good lines reassigned, Ophelia Thinks Harder looks at this illustrious play from Ophelia’s point of view. Betts questions what it means to be a woman at Elsinore – or anywhere else. Pushed and pulled by all the men (and women) in her life, Ophelia has to figure out her own path.

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

Hamilton: The Meteor
Wednesday, May 4th
Ophelia Thinks Harder at 7pm

Gisborne: Tairawhiti Museum
Saturday, May 7th
Ophelia Thinks Harder at 7:30pm 

Wellington: The Boat Café, Freyberg Lagoon, Oriental Bay 
Saturday, May 21st
Ophelia Thinks Harder at 7:30pm

Thursday, May 26th
Ophelia Thinks Harder at 7pm

Saturday, May 28th
Ophelia Thinks Harder at 7pm

Wellington: Whitireia Performance Centre 
Friday, June 3rd
Ophelia Thinks Harder at 7:30pm

Ophelia ­ Catriona Tipene 
Maid/Player Lover ­ Pippiajna Jane  
Hamlet ­ Deborah Eve Rea  
Horatio/Player Father ­ Iris Henderson  
Polonios/Laertes/Player 1/Woman 3/Player Mother ­ Sabrina Martin 
Queen/Woman 2 ­ Alida Steemson 
Rosencrantz/St Joan/Player 2 ­ Ania Upstill 
Guildenstern/Mother/Player 3 ­ Katie Boyle 

Director ­ Julia Campbell 
Costume Design ­ William Robinson

Theatre ,

The thing to catch the conscience of us all

Review by Saran Goldie-Anderson 04th Jun 2016

Watching The Lord Lackbeards Touring Company tackle – and absolutely ace – Ophelia Thinks Harder, Jean Betts’ radical feminist face punch of a Hamlet revision, gives this long-time feminist reviewer a lot of things to think harder about and a lot of complicated feelings.

Before we get to the feelings, though, this production is astounding. What director Julia Campbell, costume designer William Robinson and the strongest company of actors I have seen in a long time have done with the complex and constantly shifting text is pitch perfect. This is an ensemble work in the truest sense of the word, with all the moving pieces fitting confidently together to make a clear and unified whole. The Lord Lackbeards know their craft, they know their text, they know each other, and it shows. 

Catriona Tipene as Ophelia and Pippiajna Jane as her Maid hold the stage and each other – sometimes quite literally – for the majority of the play. Their characters, “strangers in a world they never made”, fall together into the maelstrom of society’s womanhood and neither comes out the same: one mad at the end of the infuriating journey; one with sudden clarity at the beginning of a new one. The range and sheer intensity of their performances as they fall apart in different directions is as hilarious as it is heart-breaking, and both attack with such focus I often watch them even while other characters speak, just to see the words hit home.

Deborah Eve Rea’s Hamlet is a genius character performance; her take on our long-suffering white-male-protagonist is instantly familiar and almost (but not quite) sympathetic. We know him, we hate him, we pity him even when we don’t want to – and we see all too clearly how someone so young and insufferably dull can still have such sharp edges and the power to wound with them. 

Horatio, in the slyly capable hands of Iris Henderson, is a sneaky gem of this production. Her Ultimate Nice Guy (TM) take on this trope of a man, set up to be the romantic lead (even by this unapologetically feminist script) and expected to somewhat redeem the sex, is devastatingly spot on and deliciously surprising, adding a refreshing touch of modern tongue in cheek feminist discourse that firmly marks the continued relevance of the commentary.

To call the rest of the actors a supporting cast is both a disservice and an absolute compliment. Each one shines in multiple smaller and razor sharp roles, shifting seamlessly between the characters and building together the confusing and contradictory context of Elsinore, modern society and all of history (both the official and less widely known versions) that lead us to what has gone rotten in the state.

Sabrina Martin as Polonius and Laertes paints a picture of Ophelia’s own personal teenage hell as vivid as it is hilarious. Alida Steemson tackles the Queen with glee and a wicked twinkle in her eye and has us howling and cheering when she takes that awful boy down a peg or twenty. Ania Upstill and Katie Boyle, after an energetic and exasperated St Joan, a vacantly terrifying mother, and some rather harried players, give us a Rosencrantz and Guildenstern we know so well and are still totally surprised by – and thank goodness they’re here, because for characters that are never quite sure why, they certainly know a lot and make sure we’re up to speed!

And now for the complicated feelings. Full disclosure: 11 years ago I played Ophelia in a school production of Ophelia Thinks Harder – and I never really recovered. At the time, like Ophelia, I didn’t know what I was supposed to be thinking, exactly, but I was definitely starting to do so. And the more I thought, the less the things I thought I was supposed to think made sense. Thinking too hard felt like a lot of trouble – not in the “too much effort” sense, but the “go to your room and think about what you’ve done – then fix it quickly before you become a social pariah” sense.

At 16, to be handed a play that says “Hamlet was insufferable, Horatio boring, history incomplete or just plain invented, and all these things you might be starting to suspect are just a little bit unfair are 100%, definitely, unequivocably real” is such a validating, valuable victorious thing. It felt rebellious, radical, even dangerous to stand up and say those words; the words meant for Hamlet and the words meant for me, written down and made real and given to me by someone older, wiser. By a woman who’d already grown up, having seen what she’d seen.

It feels the same, to watch The Lord Lackbeards bring this kicking, screaming, biting, bleeding, spitting and laughing play to life. It feels rebellious, radical, even dangerous to watch these women stand up and own those words, revel in them, make us pay attention, make us think harder. I’m both overjoyed and incredibly sad that this play, this wonderful play, has never been more relevant. It hasn’t aged, it isn’t out of date – it’s shocking, it’s scandalous, it’s big and loud and outspoken and unapologetic – and that still feels like a radical thing. Just as it was in 2005, when I discovered it for the first time. Just as it was in 1993, when it was written.

Twenty-three years later, Ophelia Thinks Harder is more than still relevant: it’s imperative. So much has happened and so much has changed, and there is still so far to go, but it is exciting to see it performed in 2016, with all the drive and passion and energy of another generation of women growing up to stand up and make noise, demand validation and personhood and respect (not love!) under its belt. Everyone needs to see this play, whoever we are, whatever our gender, or our age, or how equal we think we are. The play’s the thing, to catch the conscience of us all – and a better production of it than The Lord Lackbeards version would be hard to find.


Deborah Eve Rea June 4th, 2016

Thanks for the review Saran- and thank you so much John for reorganising this after two cancelled performances when our cast was struck down by a bug.

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Laughter-loaded and gets you thinking

Review by Jan-Maree Franicevic 05th May 2016

Tonight I am in the company of my boyfriend, partly I suspect because, when I got home last night, I raved on and on about how good the Lord Lackbeards’ performance of Hamlet was. I think he is quite keen to see this company in action.

We are cosied up in the front row. Before us, under universal lights, the Maid is reading her tarot cards and Ophelia is praying to an icon of the Blessed Mother Mary. My Chemical Romance is blaring from a boom box somewhere off stage. I have a moment where I think about how the boyfriend might react to this modern, feminist take on one of Shakespeare’s greatest and most well known plays. No time for that concern because we are away, on a magic carpet ride.

Ophelia Thinks Harder is very much a flipside version of the Bard’s tale, wherein Hamlet is a lad is wracked with grief at the death of his father (and as this piece presupposes, a tiny bit miffed that he will have to wait a while to get the job of King himself), and a spree of mania and murder ensues. 

Playwright Jean Betts has interpreted the tale and actually, I think, thought harder herself about the plight of women in the 1300s, the attitudes of men towards women, and women’s relationships with men and indeed with each other. Ophelia Thinks Harder is a hefty discussion on sex, sexuality and society – then and now. 

Ophelia (Catriona Tipene) is a teenager in torment; we spend a lot of time with her tonight. I think we are lucky to have such an outstanding young actor working the part: Tipene has a bright energy which carries off the, at times, whining tone of the text. She perfectly extracts from me the desire to tell her off, to hug her and occasionally to sit her down and shake some sense into her.

I watch the Maid (Pippiajna Jane) being felt up, look at Ophelia in her black lippie and lace and find myself reflecting that this is the plight of women over time immemorial. I am struck; surely I am not now, in the middle of this play, starting to think harder myself? Gulp: I realise I am. It is such a gift to spend a couple of hours watching well-executed theatre that really gets me thinking; that’s a rare feat.

Hamlet (Deborah Eve Rea) behaves like an idiot. Rea gives a real kick to the part; she is sharp and lends just the right attitude to bring this soft headed, foolish boy to life.

Sabrina Martin does a sensational job of playing the Father-Son combination of Polonius and Laertes: what a couple of rich comical buffoons these two are. Martin’s ability to switch between the two and give them each their own identities is evidence of great skill.

Hats off to director Julia Campbell, for what appears to me to be her attention to detail, which means that each of the players is so tightly knit into their array of characters that it feels like they are stitched into their simple and very effective costumes, designed by William Robinson. 

Ania Upstill exemplifies this, making a sensational Rosencrantz and St Joan (and Player 2): her years of experience show tonight. Katie Boyle is on fire, as goofball Guildenstern (also Mother and Player 3).

Our Queen (Alida Steemson, who also plays Woman 2) is charming and idiotic, wary and wise, and brings many a laugh. Horatio (Iris Henderson, who also plays Player Father) is resolutely outstanding as the over-emotional best friend.

Tonight I am most impressed by the work of Pippiajna Jane, who has the hardest job in my view: she shows a deep understanding of spatial awareness and meets Ophelia’s energy at every turn, so as to manage the balance between the two women who must share the stage for a great deal of the play’s two hour running time.

The Lord Lackbears’ Ophelia Thinks Harder is a thoroughly enjoyable, laughter-loaded piece of theatre.  It brings a healthy dose of all the very right things to its exceptional execution a delicate script which, whilst inspired and certainly very well written, has the potential, in my view, to be perceived as a wild rant. Bravo! 


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Potent and cuttingly witty

Review by Adam Dodd 01st May 2016

The Lord Lackbeards’ ‘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. 

Ophelia Thinks Harder is an exposition of sexual repression and power-games, and a celebration of the struggle for realising one’s self identity and worth. It is a play that wends its way through your defences, making you laugh and cringe as it weaves wry humour and startling bathos amidst the grotesquerie which is a woman’s lot in Elsinore. Worse is the awareness of how it does not live just in Elsinore.

It may be this that makes the first half of Ophelia so difficult to settle into, something the play itself reveals an awareness of through Betts’ occasional meta-commentary. Once you come to terms with it however, Ophelia Thinks Harder is a riot. 

The Lord Lackbeards continue here to demonstrate their prowess at rendering characters and caricatures with depth and sensitivity. A number of the roles are exchanged from the Hamlet casting, with Sabrina Martin taking up Polonius and Laertes, both with spectacular vulgarity, commanding attention with every action. Ania Upstill and Katie Boyle transform Rosencrantz and Guildenstern into endearingly subversive intellectuals.

Alida Steemson’s Gertrude is relentlessly upbeat and pragmatic. Iris Henderson continues to impress in the role of Horatio, now very clearly – and secretly –in love with Ophelia. Deborah Eve Rea’s Hamlet conveys a self-obsessed tyrannical misogyny. Her performance is impressive but lacking some of the vitality and layering that she captured in Hamlet

Catriona Tipene abandons herself to an Ophelia desperate to know herself and her role as woman in Elsinore. She brings to this Ophelia a mix of naive discovery and enduring hardship that is both bewildering and endearing. 

Overall Ophelia Thinks Harder is less polished than the Lord Lackbeards’ Hamlet, but is still extremely well put together, with a potency and cutting wittiness to it. Not to mention dolphin BDSM. 

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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