We all know the American expression, “Will it play in Peoria?” maybe it's time for an English equivalent, “How will it go down in Chichester?”
I'd have thought that Tom Stoppard was an establishment figure these days but I was buttonholed at the interval by a theatregoer incensed that the theatre was showing such obscure nonsense maybe that establishment is smaller than I thought.
It's true that Stoppard's witty and dazzling play isn't for everyone but the central idea, looking at two minor characters from Hamlet and their interaction with the characters from Elsinore is still an intriguing one and when mixed with Stoppard's wordplay and reflections on ontology, probability, determinism and mortality, it makes for a heady concoction.
I expect that large numbers of the audience were there to see Tim Curry play the Player King but they would have been disappointed as he has pulled out of the role. His place is ably taken by Chris Andrew Mellon, although every intonation and nuance of his speech smacks of Curry himself.
The evening belongs to the two central characters: Samuel Barnett's Rosencrantz and Jamie Parker's Guildenstern are beat-perfect in roles that require quick-fire repartee (and Barnett's case, a long speech without drawing breath).
Ultimately, this is a play of ideas – a work in which Stoppard can display all his erudition – but only one joke. That joke is a bit thin to be stretched to nearly three hours of theatre, not all that far short of the length of Hamlet itself.
Stoppard specialist Trevor Nunn keeps things rattling on as best he can and Barnett and Parker are superb but this has the smack of a young man's work, brimful of ideas but without the stagecraft that Stoppard would later acquire. Having said that, we can't have too many challenging plays on the repertoire and this is worth catching for Barnett and Parkers's performances alone.