Hamlet himself, Claudius and Gertrude, Ophelia and Polonius are merely bit players, impinging on the action only when Rosencrantz and Guildenstern find themselves caught up in Hamlet's story. To their endless discomfiture, their own story remains sketchy, for Stoppard allows them only the background detail you find in Shakespeare's play.
But two men's existential nightmare becomes our intense pleasure. Stoppard's dazzling writing is as shiny today as it was when it thrust him centre stage 35 years ago. It's great to hear the audience laughing at those routines - the game where you must answer question with question comes over like a cross between Wimbledon and radio's Just a Minute in Terry Hands' lively production.
Despite the 20-strong cast, the play stands or falls on the central characters and their uneasy relationship. Guildenstern is the more mentally agile, Rosencrantz the more stolid, usually one pace behind. Interestingly, they're cast physically against these mental profiles. Oliver Ryan's Rosencrantz is small and frenetic, almost frantic in his anguish to make sense of their situation, bobbing around Christian Patterson's square solid Guildenstern.
We're in no danger of confusing them, although one of the running jokes (which Stoppard takes from Shakespeare) is that everyone on stage finds it hard to get their names the right way round - including the pair themselves. Sometimes Rosencrantz's harried activity becomes tiresome, but vocally the pair's Welsh cadences are always a pleasure, one of the bonuses of this Teatr Clywd production.
Other delights are Johan Engels' white box setting and sumptuous monochrome costumes - I did covet the gorgeous white decollete number worn by Sara Harris-Davies' voluptuous Gertrude! Daniel Hawkesford's Hamlet is necessarily enigmatic. I'd like to see him as Shakespeare's hero. He may have a small part here, but the travelling players vital to Shakespeare's plot play a central role in Stoppard's play too. Led by Paul Moore's magisterial old stager, the eight-strong troupe provide dark physical comedy offering 'blood, love and rhetoric' melodrama. They also offer our heroes a chance to 'get caught up in the action', which we eventually realise they cannot refuse as the promise of the title is fulfilled.
On balance, I relish this opportunity for new audiences to discover and others to revisit Stoppard's ground-breaking comedy.
- Judi Herman (reviewed at the Wycombe Swan, High Wycombe)