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Friday, February 23, 2024

From Stratford to Halifax: Michael Blake goes “Shakespeare-adjacent” in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead plays Neptune Theatre's Fountain Hall from January 30 through February 25.

Having performed on the stages of the Stratford Festival for nine seasons in over a dozen different Shakespeare plays, actor Michael Blake is making headlines this season, not for his annual performances at the Festival but for his role as “The Player” in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead at Halifax’s Neptune Theatre.

You’re going to be challenged and really drawn into the world of these two people… – Michael Blake

In a recent interview, Blake shared insights into the unique play and his character, shedding light on where the world of Hamlet and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead meet.

Describing the play as written by “one of Britain’s greatest contemporary playwrights,” Blake emphasized its connection to Shakespeare’s Hamlet and the exploration of the lives of two minor characters from the iconic tragedy. “What’s wonderful so far in rehearsal is watching the sections that [Tom Stoppard] has written where Hamlet intersects with his play,” he says.

Having spent nine seasons at the Stratford Festival without tackling Hamlet, Blake found exploring the play’s sidelines exhilarating. “I’ve done a lot of Shakespeare, but never Hamlet, and it is a real trip to be inside that world,” he says.

With a growing resume at Stratford, Blake is well-versed in the nuances of the Bard’s works and acknowledged the influence of his Shakespearean background on his portrayal in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.

“It was immensely helpful,” he says. “Once the [Stratford] season ended, I chipped my way through the tome that is Hamlet and really looked at how it all intersects. It’s really quite remarkable.”

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead challenges the traditional narrative by spotlighting these secondary characters, revealing the untold story of their journey through the events of Hamlet.

“You’re dealing with two minor characters who are then given the stage, and you see their experience as they intersect with the play,” he says.

Shakespearean actor Michael Blake performs in the role of "The Player" in the Neptune Theatre production of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.
Shakespearean actor Michael Blake (above) performs as “The Player” in the Neptune Theatre production of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.

The production promises a deep exploration of existential themes, where the characters grapple with the larger forces at play in life.

“There’s something bigger than ourselves in life. Our exits are someone else’s entrances, and vice versa, and we move through life in that way,” Blake says, emphasizing the universal relevance of the play’s themes.

Factors, including the involvement of fellow actors Dominic Monaghan and Billy Boyd in the title roles, fueled Blake’s decision to join the Halifax production. He recalled the moment he learned about the opportunity, saying, “I thought, man, both of them are wonderful actors. I’d love to be a part of that.”

Through rehearsals, Blake has admired the camaraderie between Monaghan and Boyd, who are best known for their roles in Peter Jackson’s award-winning The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

“There’s a deep bond between these two guys which mirrors the crucial relationship between Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, who are bound to each other in a wonderful friendship but who also navigating what it means to be alive and what it means to die and what it means to be,” he says.

Blake encourages theatregoers to embrace what Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead offers.

“You’re going to be challenged and really drawn into the world of these two people, and I’m really curious to see how audiences will come in and realize how much is about their experiences,” he says. “I don’t want to give too much away, but it’s all in there, and it’s chock a block.”

As for whether prior knowledge of Hamlet is essential for the audience to appreciate  Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Blake emphasized the hope that viewers, even those unfamiliar with the source material, would find the play engaging.

With the Neptune Theatre production already well on its way to selling out, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead will move from Halifax to Toronto in March, where the show has already been extended. With all the buzz being generated, there is little doubt that Stratford’s loss is Halifax’s (and Toronto’s) gain.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead plays Neptune Theatre’s Fountain Hall from January 30 through February 25. Visit neptunetheatre.com for tickets and information.

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