Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

Fri 29th November – Sun 1st December 2013


Joseph Cooper

at 05:55 on 30th Nov 2013



The play's successes, I feel, were unfortunately due more to the excellence of Tom Stoppard than the cast and wider production team of Rozencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. The performance came across as uncomfortably inconsistent, and fell rather flat. The main issue lay in the – I cannot put it another way – abuse of Shakespeare's lines within the play; they are delivered entirely unsympathetically; I know that Stoppard's Hamlet can be a bit wet, but there are limits.

There were moments of cleverness and apt displays of verbal dexterity, the play's elaborate misconstruing being given justice in many of the lead characters' quick line-passing displays. Rozencrantz's longer speeches came into their own, the 'dead in a box' monologue being a stand-out moment – comical and well delivered. The Dumb Reading was also well staged. Other points, however, seemed disappointingly slow and to lack energy, most notably, for me, the stabbing of the Lead Player by Guildenstern; a character who seemed unnecessarily angry in much of the play, but could not muster it when it was most required.

I did enjoy the casual, everyday costumes, which most certainly added to the irreverent feel of the piece. Making the clothes of Guildernstern the same as Rozencrantz's, but in darker colours, was a very fine choice in deed. Oh, and allowing Hamlet to read Hamlet on the boat brought a smile to my face.

There were a couple of lines forgotten, with fairly audible prompts, but it is easily forgivable. The players, I felt, could have been better handled, and served mainly as a distraction to the activities on the stage. Indeed, it may have helped if the focus had not been frequently placed at the wings of the stage – a large space which the actors lacked the presence to fill.

Areas of the script could have been better handled – the 'We're on a boat' moment was brutally ostracised from its comedy – and the lines, which require a mix of naturalism and rhetoric, were at times contrived and forced to an unwholesome degree. The times when the lead pair gathered momentum were entertaining, but such times were not as frequent as they could have been. A production should build upon and add to a script, not under-perform and rely upon it.

Aside from the frequent clumsy staging, the lack of a few obvious comic moments and the abysmal treatment of Shakespeare, the play is entertaining and thoroughly enjoyable – and so it should be; it's Stoppard – the play is difficult, and challenges its actors to make gripping long sequences of existential musings, and this challenge, I feel, was not met. I was disappointed, but those less familiar with the play may enjoy the performance more, due to a lessoned expectation – the good lines are still there, and Stoppard is Stoppard, even when not acted to its full potential. A worthy attempt, but somewhat off the mark, the production team have good taste in plays, but I hope handle them with more awareness in the future.


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