Queensland Theatre has welcomed audiences back to its home at the Bille Brown Theatre for Bernhardt/Hamlet, a portrait of 19th-century French stage actress Sarah Bernhardt by American playwright Theresa Rebeck. Initially scheduled as the fourth play in the eight-play season, this is the second to open in 2022 following the Omicron wave and devastating Brisbane floods in February, which necessitated extensive repairs to the theatre.


Bernhardt/Hamlet, Queensland Theatre, 2022. Photo © Brett Boardman

Directed by Lee Lewis, Bernhardt/Hamlet celebrated an audacious undertaking by one of theatre’s pioneering women. In 1899, Sarah Bernhardt was down on her luck; she had built a new theatre, but her last production lost her millions of francs, and she needed to sell a lot of tickets to escape from debt. Bored by the stale and empty roles reserved for women of her age, she set her sights on one of the greatest challenges for an actor, and a role unheard of for a woman – Hamlet, Prince of Denmark.

This was not Bernhardt’s first “breeches part”, but her intention to play the sacred role of Hamlet caused a scandal in Paris. Bernhardt’s friends discussed the production...