West Yorkshire Playhouse
23 September 2002 WOS Rating: Average Reader Rating: Reader Reviews: View and add to our user reviews Theses have been written and brains battered into painful submission in the attempt to distil meaning from Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. Try it by all means.
Alternatively, you can accept the play in performance on a very simple level as a play which literally plays - and that right joyously with the very nature of theatre and performance. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are 'called' to play their very limited roles in the story of
Hamlet and find themselves spending most of their evening backstage together, with neither clarity of their history nor control of their destiny, and with only sporadic grasp of their identity. They attempt, in the main hilariously, to make sense of their predicament.
It is useful to remember that the play dates from 1967, when British theatre was still strongly influenced by absurdism. The parallels between our two protagonists and Beckett's Estragon and Vladimir (themselves based on Laurel and Hardy) are clear enough to see; and it is not fanciful to detect the redolence in the East European Stoppard's play of those by Ionesco.
The French fashion for existentialism had still not played itself out either, so we get shades of
Huis Clos mixed with the sparse intellectual landscape of a Resnais/Robbe-Grillet film. Then there was Pirandello's Six Characters in Search of an Author, an earlier play but much revived in the 1960s... Thus the resonances build one on top of another, and all refer back to the aesthetic climate of a particular era - and parody it with all the theatrical brio and verbal pyrotechnics which we subsequently came to recognise as the trademark of Tom Stoppard.
Gemma Bodinetz's magnificent production for West Yorkshire Playhouse renders such contextual musings largely unnecessary, however. Set by Angela Davies in a towering grey warehouse, with multiple clanking doors along the length of its two obliquely positioned walls and opened only from outside, it boasts a Guildenstern ( Nick Bagnall), wiry and bursting with physical energy like a sprinter from the blocks (whilst sounding not unlike Johnny Vegas), with a Rosencrantz ( Tom Smith) whose mien of Deputy Dawg crossed with a Gorbals Stan Laurel provides a foil so perfect that it is hard to regard them as other than definitive.
Add to them a Player King (
Richard Bremmer) who conducts himself with the authority of one for whom the transition between appearance and reality is a nightly chore, and you have the core of a performance which is never for a moment less than superbly entertaining.
- Ian Watson
Subscribe to our free newsletter
Featured Editor's Picks
: The economic impact of Arts & Culture in the UK Infographic When Culture Secretary Maria Miller called for the arts to make their "economic case" for subsidy, t... Plays Cast: Harry Potter star in Southwark Moment, more for Branagh's Macbeth Bonnie Wright, best known for playing Ginny Weasley in the Harry Potter films, will make her stage d... Brief Encounter with ... The Kite Runner's Ben Turner Ben Turner stars in the stage version of the bestselling book The Kite Runner, which runs at Liverpo... Titus Andronicus (RSC) This latest production of Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus, to borrow from football punditry, is a p... : Britain's outdoor theatres Take Five With half-term approaching, the weather (hopefully) set to improve for the bank holiday weekend and ... West End Live returns to Trafalgar Square next month West End Live, a weekend of free entertainment from top London shows, will return to Trafalgar Squar... : 'I carry the ghost of Gregory Peck on my shoulders' Robert Sean Leonard Actor Robert Sean Leonard is currently playing Atticus Finch in Timothy Sheader's production of To K... To Kill A Mockingbird Twenty years ago, a young Robert Sean Leonard appeared on the London stage with Alan Alda in... X Factor musical titled I Can't Sing!, opens Palladium March 2014 The forthcoming X Factor musical will be called I Can't Sing! The Musical and will premiere at the L... Donmar stages Nick Payne premiere, Wesker's Roots & Tom Hiddleston in Coriolanus The Donmar Warehouse has announced its new season, which features the premiere of Nick Payne's new p...