Merry and Pippin are Rosencrantz and Guildenstern
Dominic Monaghan and Billy Boyd will make their theatre debut in Halifax (followed by a run in Toronto) as a duo they first talked about playing while on the set of The Two Towers. The next theatre season in Canada is getting a double dose of two beloved, fearless but accident-prone hobbits. Dominic Monaghan and Billy Boyd, a.k.a. Merry Brandybuck and Pippin Took, will star in a new production of Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. The production will open at Atlantic Canada's largest professional theatre company from January 30 to February 25, 2024, and will then appear in at Toronto's CAA Theatre from March 5 to 24, 2024. Boyd and Monaghan will star as the titular duo in the 1966 absurdist buddy comedy, sending two supporting characters in Shakespeare's Hamlet on an existential romp through the famous story. The Neptune and Off-Mirvish seasons are still being offered, but it is not the most obscure play on offer.
Published : 2 weeks ago by Carly Maga in
From California to Halifornia, and from The Shire to Hogtown — the next theatre season in Canada is getting a double dose of two beloved, fearless but accident-prone hobbits.
Dominic Monaghan and Billy Boyd, a.k.a. Merry Brandybuck and Pippin Took, have both been busy in the two decades since the Lord of the Rings trilogy. They've often built upon their famous friendship by working together on podcasts (The Friendship Onion, Moriarty: The Devil's Game) and TV (Boyd appeared on Monaghan's travel show Wild Things, and the two just announced a new reality series Billy and Dom Eat the World). But now they're making their stage debut together as a different dynamic duo.
The pair will star in a new production of Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. And rather than making that debut in a global theatre capital like London or New York, they're premiering in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Opening at — Atlantic Canada's largest professional theatre company — from January 30 to February 25, 2024, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead will be directed by Neptune Theatre artistic director Jeremy Webb. And announced this week, the production will then appear in at Toronto's CAA Theatre from March 5 to 24, 2024.
"It's funny, isn't it? It's a big world, but we very quickly make rules about what things are meant to be, and sometimes kicking against that is fun," says Boyd from his home in Los Angeles when asked about choosing Halifax as his theatre debut with Monaghan. "Sometimes, or all the time, you should go with your gut. And every time I've been in Halifax, I've had a fantastic time: the restaurants, bars, music, just walking around in that part of the world. It's beautiful and I know Dom will love it."
"You're like, 'Well, why are we waiting to play some game that someone else has made the rules for?'"
Boyd's previous Halifax trips for film shoots and comic convention appearances often brought him to a Neptune Theatre show in his down time, including ones directed by Webb. During one of those visits, Webb and Boyd met for a drink — that's when Webb pitched the concept of Boyd and Monaghan starring as the titular duo in Stoppard's 1966 absurdist buddy comedy. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead sends two supporting characters in Shakespeare's Hamlet on an existential romp through the famous story, centred around themes of death, fate and identity.
"They are perfect casting as a pre-existing double act, almost," says Webb. "It's not like I'm bringing two actors in that don't know each other and they then have to develop a friendship. It's going to be there from day one."
"I had to play it cool, I'm not going to lie… I said, 'Sorry, I'm going to regret that I had you here with a beer in your hand and I didn't ask you.' And that's when [Boyd] surprised me and said, 'You know, we've been thinking about this, and that play has come up in conversation. Let's talk about it.'"
At that point, Boyd brought the idea to Monaghan, who recalled first discussing Stoppard's play with Boyd while on set for The Two Towers. "Billy, at the time — this is more than 20 years ago — said it is one of the great two-handers," Monaghan says. "From a professional point of view, I've always been interested in the things that are.... 'scary' might be a childish word to use, but something that evokes an excitement where you think, 'Wow, this is not the easy path.'"
In both the Neptune and Off-Mirvish seasons that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead appears in, it is perhaps the most obscure straight play on offer. Or if not, it's at least the most conceptual, given Stoppard's love for metaphors and wordsmithing.
In Neptune's case, it's mixed in with musicals like Cinderella and The Full Monty and farces like The Play That Goes Wrong starring Jonathan Torrens; at Mirvish, it appears alongside Aaron Sorkin's adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird and the musicalized Pride and Prejudice* (*sort of). But of course, casting two stars of an iconic cultural franchise was a deliberate opportunity to not only bring a one-of-a-kind production to Canada, but to help kickstart sales for a theatre that's still recovering from the pandemic.
"We want people to come back to Neptune," says Webb. "We're also aware that there are a lot of people in our region that have never been to the theatre, so we're encouraging them — 'Hey, maybe it's time to check it out.'"
And so far, it's working: single tickets go on sale June 1, but season subscriptions sales have already beaten projections. (Off-Mirvish sales are for Toronto audiences as well.)
"We've seen a lot of people say, 'Where's Halifax? I guess we're going,'" says Webb.
That's part of the appeal for Boyd and Monaghan as well — the idea of drawing a new audience into the theatre, particularly for a play as celebrated as Stoppard's.
"There's something very special about being in that dark room and sharing a moment, and an evening, and a story," says Boyd. "And when it's done right, I think theatre can be up there with the top art forms."
"If this is the first introduction to so many people to the incredible art form of theatre, and we're able to do that because they love The Lord of the Rings, then what a fantastic thing we've been able to do," adds Monaghan.
But what makes them feel most drawn to the project is simple: the opportunity to work together. Theatre especially is a process that lends time to rehearsals and a lengthy run of public performances — not the standard in film and TV. And the roles also offer the two pals a chance to try on another pair of characters in their famous relationship.
"Billy is playing the role that is associated with less of the kind of Pippin-esque qualities," says Monaghan. "And I'm playing the role that has more of those qualities. Billy's character drives the scene a little bit more. He's a little smarter, he's a little quicker on the uptake. My character is, I would say, a little bit intellectually slower and confused."
"It would have been easier for us to have leaned into those [original] roles more, but I think we were both intrigued to see what life is like on the other foot. Maybe I'll learn a little bit more about what it took for Billy to play Pippin, and vice versa, by putting on those shoes."
Neptune Theatre says that there is potential for the production to have a longer life following its stop in Toronto, so Boyd and Monaghan may have even more time to spend with their new alter egos of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern — but no matter what their next project becomes, it'll likely always centre around the pair as a friendly duo.
"I think Dom and I have always been interested in the duo thing through the years — Laurel and Hardy, Morecombe and Wise, The Two Ronnies," says Boyd. "There's something really special about two people sharing a moment, or a life, or whatever it is."
"You can bear the tragedy of life a little more when there's someone there to bounce off of. That's where the tragedy becomes comedy."