Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead
NTS Media @ The Goodwood Institute
2:30pm, Sun 12 Mar 2006
The second play by Tom Stoppard this Fringe (the first being After Magritte), this is certainly the more cerebral of the two. It relies on the audience’s knowledge of Hamlet to provide the back-story; it’s essentially the flip-side of The Bard’s work, promoting bit players Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to leading characters, whilst relegating the principals – Hamlet, Ophelia, Claudius, et al – to the background.
The opening of the piece created high expectations; as the audience seat themselves, the backing screen on-stage features video Rosencrantz and Guildenstern ambling down a pathway, gradually creeping towards the audience. As the screen avatars reach the camera’s eye, the characters step through the screen onto the stage – simple, and effective.
We’re then treated to the rapid-fire wordplay and punnery seen in After Magritte, and it almost seems as if Shakespeare’s work is facilitating a battle of wits between the actors and the audience. There’s a constant challenges in the offing – the derivation of the “stark raving sane” Hamlet is a twisting conundrum – but the best lines are often left to The Players (who, they explain, are nothing without an audience): “Is that what people want?” asked Guildenstern; “It’s what we do” responded The Player.
The production certainly has some nice touches – the pre-recorded video projected onto the backing screen is well done (again, the opening was ace – and the cast bow was pretty well done, too), though occasionally the associated sound was a little muddled. Acting is enthusiastic at worst, and Ron Hughes’ Guildenstern & The Player of Natalie Playford are spot-on. Sets were sparsed, but adequate – the biffo scene on the boat to England was staged with some creativity and a lot of wackiness.
In short, this was an enjoyable production for a humid Sunday afternoon. A completely different reading to Stoppard’s own movie adaptation, but none-the-worse for it.