A huge standalone villa near Qatar Foundation is home to the city’s amateur dramatics society, the Doha Players. And, whilst ‘am-dram’ may well conjure up thoughts of cringe-worthy performances acted out by wannabe thespians (something that is, in fairness, quite often the case), it’s impressive the amount of talent you can actually find in such a small expat community.
Katherine Spry, a drama teacher from Kansas, is just one of these extremely talented individuals. With a Masters in Performing Arts and having been in the theatre herself since she was just five years old, directing and acting in a number of amateur and ‘pro/am’ productions across America, Katherine is clearly no amateur. Asked whether she feels more comfortable on or off the stage, she confidentially, and without hesitation, says she definitely does both.
Although she didn’t choose the play herself, Katherine is clearly very excited about the prospect of directing it. ‘Someone else picked this play but, due to their work commitments, they weren’t able to finish directing it, so I stepped in to finish the show.’
Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead is one of British playwright Tom Stoppard’s, most famous works. The absurdist comedy, which takes two very minor characters from Hamlet and casts them as its leads, is often compared to Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, a play Katherine has directed before. ‘Two people, who are just these minor minor characters in Hamlet were basically considered to be two of Shakespeare’s most famous pawns.’
Katherine is also keen to give us a bit of a run down on the plot, and to emphasise that this is not strictly Shakespeare, but is rather a one-and-a-half hour comedy that should appeal to a wide audience. ‘It is funny. It’s kind of ingenious. Stoppard has taken Hamlet and turned it on its head by taking these two random people, who lack purpose and comprehension of their situation, and turning them into Laurel and Hardy.’ Even their conversations are similar to the banter that went back and forth between Abbott and Costello.
In a nutshell, the play follows these two hapless souls who are on stage throughout the entire performance whilst random Shakespearean people drop in on them and tell them what to do in a language they don’t understand. ‘These two people who are from the modern world are suddenly thrust into this Shakespearean tragedy, and they don’t know what’s going on. They are afraid of Claudius and Hamlet seems insane.’
Claudius, the King of Denmark, is Hamlet’s uncle, and he calls on Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, who are childhood friends of Hamlet, to come to court to spy on him. When Hamlet finds out what is going on, he changes a letter intended for the King of England giving instructions to kill him, to read ‘kill Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’ instead, and then heads back to Denmark. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern go to England where they are killed. ‘So you have these two people who are just this blip in Hamlet and Stoppard takes them and makes them the centre of this play.’
‘They don’t really know why they are in Hamlet’s court nor, as they are speaking Modern English, do they understand all the people around them who are talking about in Shakespearian verse and giving them instructions,’ says Katherine.
The main characters are played by Jeroen Vahrmeijer from Holland, who trained in improvisation, and then subsequently worked in theatres in Los Angeles, and Canadian Joe Wall. But, whilst the focus is on these two title roles, an additional cast of 10 and a total of around 15 people working behind the scenes doing things like costumes, lighting, sound, props and budgets, just go to show that it actually takes a lot of people to make something like this happen. There is even someone composing original music for it. They have such a wealth of talent to choose from, although, given the transient nature of Doha, Katherine is eager to point out that, ‘We are always on the lookout for new people.’
‘We are rehearsing a total of around 10 hours a week at the moment, but as the performance draws closer, the schedule intensifies,’ she adds It is definitely an ambitious and bold production to attempt, but the Doha Players are remarkably versatile, with the ability to switch between musicals, pantomimes and iconic dramas. And with someone like Katherine at the helm, it is unlikely that it will be anything other than another Doha Players success.
The Doha Players will perform Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead from May 20-21 at the College of the North Atlantic. Tickets are QR50 per person, available from The One and at www.dohaplayers.com