Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead

Written by Tom Stoppard
Directed by Max Rubin
Contemporary Urban Centre, Greenland Street
1st-13th September 2009

Reviewed by Mari Jones

A play about death sounds like a very depressing evening. But Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead looks at these subjects in a peculiar and very funny way.

The play is a creation of Tom Stoppard and was first performed in 1966. Taking one of Shakespeare’s most famous productions - Hamlet - Stoppard looked at it from a different angle. He chose to focus on two minor characters Shakespeare used as mere plot devices - the titular Rosencrantz and Guildenstern - and explore the play through their eyes. So instead of the major parts of the plot surrounding Hamlet and the other characters, Stoppard shows Rosencrantz and Guildenstern waiting onstage for something to happen while they try and figure out what they are doing there. They discuss subjects such as fate, life and most importantly, death (a big factor in Hamlet and any other Shakespeare tragedy), all the time aware that they are only small characters in a big story and even noticing that they are on a stage, pointing out that they have nowhere to walk and waiting for the next snippet of Hamlet to begin.

The version of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern shown at the Novas Centre creates another new twist to Stoppard’s original play. Director Max Rubin has chosen to set the play in a more recent time, with the characters all dressed in more contemporary clothes. The plot and dialogue is still Stoppard’s, but in changing the time period it seems the director is saying that everything the characters discuss about life and death is relevant in any time. And it certainly makes the play more intriguing to watch.

However the one thing that can make or break any play is (obviously) the performances. But in this production by the Lodestar Theatre Company not one person puts a foot wrong. The characters of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are present onstage for the entire play and are therefore very demanding roles, but here both actors who play them (Richard Kelly and Simon Hedger respectively) handle the dialogue naturally and make the characters their own, while still being able to inject the roles with necessary humour at the same time.

Stoppard’s funny, witty dialogue and the performances here are enough to make you laugh out loud as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern try and make sense of it all without losing their heads. It makes for a thoroughly entertaining evening and I would recommend it to anyone – both regular theatre visitors and otherwise. And it will leave you with the ultimate question: “Heads? Or Tails?”

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