Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Review Squared, February 26, 2013

Let’s Agree to Disagree
by Valerie Cardinal

A few weeks ago, I looked at how reviews can differ even if the authors have similar opinions. This week, how can two reviewers go to the same show and come out with completely opposing things to say about it?

The divisive production in question is Soulpepper Theatre’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead in Toronto. Tom Stoppard’s riff on Hamlet, featuring two of its bit-players, was first performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 1966. It remains a classic, especially known by people my age due to its film adaptation in 1990. It’s so beloved within my circle of friends that I’m embarrassed to admit I’ve never actually seen it!

Staging a production of such a well-known play can be tricky, as shown by the following reviews. These critics saw the same show, presumably on the same night; Richard Ouzounian at The Star loved it, and Christopher Hoile at Stage Door wasn’t quite so keen.  

They do agree on a few elements, including the staging in the round, Dana Osborne’s Elizabethan costumes and Kevin Lamotte’s complimentary lighting. That is mostly where the similarities end. 

What Ouzounian highly praises, Christopher Hoile usually critiques.

Their opening lines sum up their differences. “Soulpepper’s new production of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead is disappointing,” reads Stage Door’s review. At The Star, “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, which opened Wednesday night at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, is a perfect example of why Soulpepper is not just the best but also the most necessary theatre company in Toronto.” 

What Ouzounian highly praises, Christopher Hoile usually critiques. Ouzounian writes that Joseph Ziegler’s direction is inspired, while Hoile finds fault in the direction of the actors: “Here, no doubt in an attempt to heighten the comedy, Ziegler has directed Dykstra to play the Rosencrantz as if he were an idiot, and worse, one who uses a funny high-pitched voice and mugs constantly.”

What surprised me the most was the disparity between their thoughts of the two main actors. The Star offers high praise, especially of Ted Dykstra’s Rosencrantz. “Dykstra has never given a richer performance in his distinguished career.” On the other hand, Stage Door sees these performances as lacking, writing that Pettle and Dykstra turned in the least compelling performances. “Pettle and Dykstra do not convey the rapport essential to this duo nor do they generate much sympathy even though they are supposed to be the Everyman figures who represent us,” writes Hoile. 

However, both agree that the rest of the cast, playing the other characters from Hamlet, were fantastic, and deserved their own shot at staging the real thing by Shakespeare. 

So who’s right and who’s wrong? Both of them, as well as neither of them. Their opinions are formed by their personal biases. Hoile mentions that he has seen other productions of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead in his review, the best Canadian one being fairly recently in 2009. I understand how difficult it can be to erase one production from your mind when you’re critiquing another of the same play, especially one that doesn’t meet your expectations.  

As reviewing something is a very subjective activity, there is no right or wrong answer. The only answer is to go see the show and make up your mind yourself!


  1. There's a review at mooneyontheatre by Winston Soon which is in the Hoile vein, and another at theatromania by Lauren Gillett giving it 4.5 stars out of 5. Curiously fascinating.

  2. Must keep in mind the Ouz is a Soulpepper sycophant.


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