Tom Stoppard has a richly deserved reputation for plays on a wide range of intellectually obscure subjects filled with dazzling wit but also an irresistable urge to show off. His first play demonstrates that those characteristics were there from the very beginning. The idea of seeing the story of Hamlet through the eyes of two minor characters is brilliant and, when closest to that conceit it is frequently clever, funny and highly entertaining. There are a couple of very good recurring jokes; nobody,not even Rosencrantz or Guildenstern, are sure which is which and Hamlet is invariably referred to as talking to himself again. However there are just as many times when it is deeply irritating, especially the (acknowledged) homage to / rip off of Waiting for Godot - even the Player King is obviously Pozzo and Alfred is Lucky. The vast majority of a large cast are almost entirely incidental and the play depends on the performances of the two main characters. Jamie Parker is a touch too bombastic at times and Samuel Barnett only just sterrs clear of Kenneth Williams as a very camp Rosencrantz (or Guildenstern), but they are both highly engaging and manage to avoid the trap of an audience wishing they really were dead. If this had been the first Stoppard play I had seen I might never have had to endure the apalling Jumpers but I would also have missed Arcadia which stands as one of the greatest plays of the 20th century. - David Baxter
19 Aug 11
Two compelling actors in what adds up to second rate Beckett. - Steve
31 Jul 11
An astonishing play superbly realised - provided you have the wit to get it which, judging by a couple of the posts here, shoudln't be taken for granted. - MJA
17 Jul 11
The balance needs redressing here - I'm with the critics rather than the miseries. Very funny, interesting themes, great acting. Can't ask for more really. - JN
13 Jul 11
Gareth, you're on the money. The concept is the most amusing thing about it, and as a five minute Mitchell & Webb sketch it would probably have been quite droll, but after two and a half hours of mugging and banter I had lost the will to live. I left in a foul mood, genuinely wondering whether I'd lost all interest in theatre. For the Sunday Times columnist (I think it was the deadly Bryan Appleyard) who said this was the funniest play he had ever seen, I can only suggest he get out more. There are more laughs in Lear. - James Masters
09 Jul 11
Waiting for Godot meets Six Characters in Search of an Author, but not as satisfying as either.
Memory is a funny thing. I think Iíve seen this twice before and I think I liked it on both occasions. Last night it irritated the hell out of me. Tom Stoppard at his best sparkles with wit and invention. This oneís smug, glib, pompous and too clever for its own good. Itís like an arrogant intellectual student showing off. Stephen Fry Ė The Play.
The characters of the title are of course minor roles in Hamlet and Stoppard puts them centre stage and weaves them in and out of that play and the work of The Players of that play, but its all rather pointless. It does have some good lines and it is sometimes funny, but like an overlong joke, it just goes on and on for 2.5 hours.
Iíd love to say that fine young actors Samuel Barnett and Jamie Parker were good, but for some reason they overacted mercilessly; Barnett particularly camp in a way that seemed at odds with the role Ė whatever was director Trevor Nunn thinking of? The rest are mere bit players as they say, but they did their bit perfectly well. I liked Simon Higlettís simple design with what seem like time tunnels through which the ensemble enter and leave.
I am a bit hot and cold when it comes to Stoppard, so Iím prepared to accept that itís a matter of taste. For me, though, a profoundly annoying piece of theatre and a waste of a lot of talent. - Gareth James
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