Globe Theatre, 104 London St, Dunedin

12/09/2019 - 21/09/2019

Production Details

Director’s notes

Shakespeare’s Ophelia is a minor one-dimensional character – the epitome of goodness, obedience, innocence and frailty. Grief-stricken by the loss of her mother, controlled by her father and brother, and manipulated by her ‘intended’, she drowns her sorrows, literally. 

Jean Betts, however, takes Ophelia in hand, presenting her with various historical points of view that challenge her cultural beliefs about the place of women in society. Betts makes Ophelia think harder as she processes these revelations, thus enabling her to become more self-aware, finally emerging as an independent, assertive and confident young woman, in control of her own future.  Indeed, Betts demonstrates that thinking can be truly transforming! She also poses a conundrum. If “all the world’s a stage”, to what extent are we free to select and interpret our roles? How and to what extent are the lines and script predetermined for us?

This hilarious, and cleverly-constructed play by Betts takes swipes at Shakespeare’s male ‘influencers’ by caricaturing them; she also subverts well-remembered lines from Shakespeare’s canon to fit the emotional mood. 

Written and performed in 1993 to celebrate the centenary of NZ suffrage, it might be pertinent to ask, many years on: How much further has female suffrage progressed?

The play is set in the Castle Hallway and stairs, Queen’s closet and Ophelia’s bedroom. 

The interval will take place after the bell, and during the setting up of the stage by The Players, for their celebratory performance.

Globe Theatre, 104 London St, Dunedin
Thursday 12 – Saturday 21 September 2019
7.30pm & Sunday 2pm matinee
(no show Monday)
Adult:  $25.00
Concession: (includes Seniors and Students) $20.00
Opening Night Special:  $15.00
Members:  $15.00
School Students (with ID) :  $10.00

There will be a 15 minute interval with bar service.
The performance will end at 10 pm (4.30 pm Sunday).

“one man (and woman) in his (or her) time plays many parts” 
Ophelia:  Rosie Dunn
Maid:  Laura Wells
Hamlet:  Cheyne Jenkinson
Polonius:  Craig Storey
St Joan:  Sofie Welvaert
Horatio:  Greg Freeman
Laertes:  Reuben Hilder
Queen:  Helen Fearnley
Ophelia's Mother:  Charlotte Hall-Tiernan
Three Women:  Greg Freeman, Reuben Hilder, Craig Storey
Rosencrantz:  Sofie Welvaert
Guildenstern:  Kay Masters
The Players:  Charlotte Hall-Tiernan, Craig Storey, Reuben Hilder, Greg Freeman, Moe Stebbings
King:  David Keen
and The Virgin Mary

Director:  Lynne Keen
Stage Manager:  Jacinta Burney
Properties:  Kay Masters
Set Design & Construction:  Ray Fleury & Don Vialle
Set Art work:  Chris Vialle
Costumes:  Sofie Welvaert & Quentin Francis
Lighting Design:  Brian Byas
Tech Operators:  Jamie Byas & her team
Front of House Manager:  Leanne Byas
Publicity:  Helen Fearnley  

Theatre ,

Subversion of Hamlet an amusing ride

Review by Barbara Frame 17th Sep 2019

“I just want to be a person!” wails Ophelia. That shouldn’t be too hard, but it is. Her father, Polonius, advises against intellectual exertion. The Queen tries to give her a style makeover. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern baffle her with convoluted, nonsensical philosophies. Hamlet seems interested in her reproductive function, then suggests she’s a witch. None of this represents a direction poor exasperaied Ophelia wants to go in.

Jean Betts’ (and William Shakespeare’s) Ophelia Thinks Harder has become a New Zealand classic, cheerfully subverting Hamlet and putting Ophelia centre stage. Mostly in present-day English, it happily plunders not just Shakespeare’s original but his other plays and the sonnets for dialogue, on an as-required basis. [More]

Everything that happens is funny: the plot is wildly inventive, chronology is abandoned, and gender identity is all over the place. Even many of the costumes, by Sofie Welvaert and Quentin Francis, are funny. Joan of Arc unexpectedly pops in, as do three witches taking a break from Macbeth

All members of the 12-strong cast, mostly experienced Globe regulars, work hard and well, and some play more than one part. Extra-special mention must be made of Rosie Dunn’s performance as Ophelia. She’s on stage for most of the two hours, and quickly gains the audience’s sympathy with charm and humour.

Cheyne Jenkinson is an energetically bratty Hamlet. Helen Fearnley, in a spectacularly ridiculous outfit, is imperious as the drama-queen Queen. And Laura Wells, as Ophelia’s maid, constantly raises the comic temperature with her expressive features, great timing and a mad scene of her own.

Director Lynne Keen adroitly balances the play’s feminist intent and its gleeful hilarity. On Thursday night a smallish audience (about 20 people) loved it, and it deserves much larger houses.


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A witty, daring mistresspiece

Review by Terry MacTavish 14th Sep 2019

“Woe is me,” wails Shakespeare’s Ophelia, well on her way to madness and untimely death. But what if, instead of wallowing in morbid resignation and self-pity, expressed in a line that has been mercilessly mocked for centuries, Ophelia had determined to be the mistress of her own destiny? To actually ponder her situation as a woman and therefore a mere pawn, perchance to challenge it. To think, in fact.

Jean Betts, frustrated since her schooldays by her inability to connect to the heroines of the classics, and irritated by the heroes’ tendency to get all the best lines, sets out to rescue poor neglected Ophelia, who becomes the centre of the play and the means by which women’s issues can be whimsically explored. Prince Hamlet’s love-interest has problems quite as deep as his, after all – her sole parent is also murdered by someone close to her, she too is wrestling with her own mortality, and above all she has to cope with a totally insufferable boyfriend.

It is sheer delight to see again what has become a true New Zealand classic, and realise how brilliantly Ophelia Thinks Harder has stood the test of time. Combining love of poetical language with impudent humour, Jean Betts plunders many of Shakespeare’s plays as well as Hamlet – from The Taming of the Shrew to Othello and Much Ado – to create a hilariously topsy-turvy world.

In this Globe production, directed with zing by Lynne Keen, a cracking little cast rips into the script with such exuberant energy that we are enthralled for what seems far less than the advertised time. The audience responds with non-stop chuckles and snorts, clearly recognising characters and situations that have not changed much since the 1500s, let alone 1993 when it was first produced.

Indeed the only scenes that seem to have dated are the rather lengthy lectures redressing female history supplied by Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, women in drag, who are sympathetically, even sweetly, portrayed by Sofie Welvaert and Kay Masters wearing matching brown suits. Originally played by comediennes Lorae Parry and Carmel McGlone in their alter-egos of proto-male-feminists Digger and Nudger, these roles now seem more of an in-joke that has lost its meaning. Though sadly it may still be necessary to educate the generation that missed out on Women’s Lib, the method is too didactic and slows the otherwise admirable pace of the play.  

The set by Ray Fleary and Don Vialle is pleasant and workable: the Castle Hall with stairs and high arched windows, and cosier areas for Ophelia and the Queen to either side. An intriguingly spooky opening is created by Brian Byas’s lighting, enhanced by some lively sound effects. The costumes are the exciting eclectic mixture we have come to expect from designer Sofie Welvaert, a marriage of Shakespearean and modern, with Queen Gertrude particularly eye-catching in dashing tartan leggings topped by Elizabethan bodice and ruff. 

Quicksilver actor Cheyne Jenkinson is gorgeous, perfectly cast and very funny, as an appallingly narcissistic Hamlet. With overweening arrogance he darts like an electric eel, verbally and physically, around stumbling Ophelia, all the while trashing poor Horatio (a gentle Greg Freeman), who tags along behind, with a secret agenda of his own, actually composing the sonnets (Shakespeare’s own) with which Hamlet bamboozles Ophelia. The Roget’s Thesaurus version of ‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day’ is genius.

Reuben Hilder makes a fine Laertes, bellicose in defence of his sister’s ‘honour’ (i.e. virginity), but always ready to bond with his old friend and rival Hamlet in cheery moments of misogyny and homophobia. I am pleased to see him back as Laertes after his spirited trebling as a Crone and a Player, to give full value to one of my favourite lines (Spoiler!), Laertes’ incredulous response to the Queen’s famously elegiac, suspiciously detailed description of Ophelia’s death by drowning: “You mean; you just stood there – and watched her drown?!”

Craig Storey’s rich, unctuous tones give Polonius the right air of pomposity for his absurd pronouncements, “Women must beware forcing the brain … it leads to flat chests.” Meanwhile Charlotte Hall-Tiernan as the ghost of his late wife delivers similarly smug advice to her bewildered daughter, “And darling – don’t think too much, just smile.” Most of the actors are kept busy in double roles – the Crones, who are an update on Macbeth’s witches, and the Players who parody modern thespians – proving especially proficient in bringing out the comedy of their parts. 

But naturally the play belongs to the women, and a trio of Dunedin’s best totally justify Betts’ stated aim to meddle ruthlessly with the subconscious notion that “the fascinating, complex, tortured, passionate, angst-ridden, cosmos-questioning and deeply funny characters are almost always male”.

Distinguished actor Helen Fearnley, who made a most refined Queen Gertrude in a local Hamlet, seizes the chance to give forceful utterance to the thoughts that wretched lady was surely repressing, first in advising Ophelia on how a woman can manipulate a man “so the hen can rule the roost and the cock thinks he does”, and then in turning the tables on her moralistic son, Hamlet: “Oh yes, Claudius and I … HAVE SEX – and we are inconsiderate enough not to give a shit what drivelling adolescents like you think!” Delicious writing, and Fearnley really does it justice.

Laura Wells is very amusing and yet ultimately poignant as Ophelia’s downtrodden, superstitious maid, the object of constant sexual harassment by almost every male. Of course one shouldn’t find a descent into utter madness entertaining, but Wells is just so darn good at doing crazy! All three leading women have beautiful articulation but Wells is exemplary in delivering a convincing working class accent with absolute clarity: no easy task.

The play stands or falls on whether we care about Ophelia, as her confusion can be exasperating, but Rosie Dunn absolutely triumphs. Under Keen’s direction, she makes Ophelia simply adorable, engaging and credible, whether with insight and lovely elocution she is delivering one of Hamlet’s famous lofty speeches, or descending abruptly to colloquialisms like, “Oh shit. Shit shit shit. He doesn’t give a shit.”  Dunn brings charm, intelligence and a ready sense of humour to the role, and her bright, expressive face reflects every shade of thought as Ophelia strives to make sense of her world.

I note the audience are leaving on a high and the actors too are bubbling without a vestige of toil or trouble.  I am genuinely thrilled that those not even born in 1993 are lucky enough to see or, better still, be part of a happy production of this witty, daring mistresspiece.


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