17 April 2017

REVIEW: Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard at The Old Vic

Hello everyone! I have a little play review for you all today. Holly & I got tickets for Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead for our birthday, and so last night made our way to the Old Vic in London.

As a film & theater grad, I'm no stranger to Shakespeare plays and studying hundreds of on screen and theatrical depictions over the years. Although Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead isn't written by Shakespeare himself - it can be considered as a Shakespearean play.

The play centers around Rosencrantz & Guildenstern, and the events of Hamlet from their point of view. Originally written by Tom Stoppard in the mid 1960's, the two characters are described as 'excellent good friends' of Hamlet. Although Hamlet makes several appearances throughout the play, the play itself was centered on the friendship between Rosencrantz & Guildenstern.

Disclaimer: This review focuses only on the production of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, taking place at the Old Vic Theatre in London. As we were unfamiliar with the play before we saw it, the review does not compare the mise-en-scene with the original text.

  • Rosencrantz & Guildenstern: a firm chemistry between the two leads
The importance of chemistry can not be overstated for this play. Joshua McGuire plays Guildenstern and Daniel Radcliffe Rosencrantz, and the two never exit the stage. The incredibly rich, witty and funny dialogue is perfectly delivered, with the two interacting in a moving & effortless chemistry that feels incredibly genuine. With a huge amount of complex dialogue, this play isn't everyone's cup of tea, however it's so wonderfully written and delivered by McGuire & Radcliffe that it doesn't feel overpowering.
Considering that the two never leave the stage, it felt very well paced. The first 15-20 minutes in which they are setting the scene, the pace is slower than the rest of the play, yet the leads bring such vitality that combined with the dialogue, the audience's attention is gripped throughout. McGuire & Radcliffe both successfully convey the comedic tones of the play, their interactions so natural & flawless. The casting is truly perfect, with the leads perfectly intertwining humor and melancholy. 
  • A nod to Waiting For Godot
I'm quite certain that the words Waiting For Godot bring dread to every single person who has ever studied the performing arts. The start of this play is undoubtedly a nod to Waiting For Godot by Samuel Beckett. Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are alone on stage (as they are for the majority of the play), questioning who they are and how they ended up in their current situation, grasping at their memories for any indication of what/why/how they're there. Although Rosencrantz & Guildenstern aren't similar to Vladimir & Estragon in any way - the setting does feel familiar, but this is something that can easily overlooked unless you've seen or studied Samuel Beckett's work.

  • A different point of view on a famous story
Everyone is familiar with Hamlet in some way or another, having read it at school or seen in on screen or at the theater. Yet Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead brings a new point of view to a famous and well respected work of art. The fall of dear Hamlet through the eyes of his childhood friends. The other main characters in Hamlet are present, including Ophelia, Gertrude, Polonius, Claudius & Horatio - albeit only for a few scenes. The two main characters bring comic relief to what would otherwise be distressing scenes, such as Hamlet dragging Polonius's body across the floor to dispose of it, whilst they both attempt to stop him in his tracks yet fail in a rather hilarious manner. Yet, the play offers more depth and emotion to these characters that originally only have a minor part in Hamlet.
  • Production
I really enjoyed the production of the play - I was really impressed by Rosencrantz & Guildenstern's costumes, as well as the simplistic mise-en-scene. The main decor was a ladder to one side of the stage, 2 curtains that effectively created different spaces on the stage. The theatrical make-up of the other characters was just an impressive: the travelling theater troupe, all of whom had mime-type make-up. With few sound effects, the majority of the music was performed by the actors themselves (the troupe) The set reflected the situation of the two characters - walls covered in soft pink clouds that reached the ceiling, like being stuck in the veil that separates life from the death, heaven and earth. We had Dress Circle seats, so although we were very close to the stage, we had to turn to our left to actually see what was going on - but I would get those seats again as it allowed us to see the actors faces and expressions clearly.

  • Life, Death, Memories & Eternity - a short analysis written by Holly

I would highly recommend you go see this play before it ends (final performance Saturday 6th May 2017), if you do plan on seeing it, stop reading this review now to avoid the spoilers!

The play intertwines memories of Rosencrantz & Guildenstern's life with what we imagine to be their twilight zone. At several moments in the play, we find ourselves wondering what is happening - how did they get here again? Is this their past or their present? What is their present? Questions asked by the audience which in turn reflect the characters state of mind: they have moments of clarity, then utter confusion, not understanding how they came to be in this situation, and specifically what this situation is. 

They seem to be constantly jumping between re-living their last memories, the events leading up to their death, with moments of their 'present', their after-life, moments in which where there is a profound absence of progress. Nothing changes, their actions lead them no-where: take for example the opening scene, in which Rosencrantz and Guilderstern play heads or tails with their pennies. The result is, 90+ times in a row, heads. Repetition. The first indicator that something isn't quite right. There is no balance.

This plays on Guildenstern (Joshua McGuire), who questions Rosencrantz (Daniel Radcliffe) on their situation. What is the last thing you remember? At the beginning of the play it would seem that Guildenstern is the inquisitive one, though this is put into question as the play goes on. Just as both characters get their names muddled up, the characters' personalities (although similar) and behavior seem to flow between each-other, switching back and forth. This effect is maintained through-out, with some acts being repeated in a different manner by the other (i.e. when they act out the King of England).

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, however much they discuss what they could or should do, seem to have no control over their situation whatsoever. They talk and talk, seemingly unable to leave the stage, stopping themselves at the last minute. Almost like the stage is their prison, a prison of their last memories they have no choice but to re-live. In this respect they can be considered as spectators to their own lives: they can all but watch Claudius, Gertrude, Polonius and Hamlet. They have no power over Hamlet's life (almost as though their story, not-written by Shakespeare - can but witness the original tale, unable to intervene).

The mise en abyme of theatre in the play entertains this idea that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are but spectators: they unknowingly watch a performance which depicts their own deaths. This scene at the end of the first act, supports the theory that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern have been dead all along, unwilling to move on, for fear of what comes next, but not wanting to be stuck in this darkness, desperately waiting for something or someone to come along to push them forward. Their conversations are the only thing that sustains them, that keeps them somewhat calm. Although it is plagued with moments of uncertainty, they find peace in eachother, and comfort knowing they are alone together.

The clever dialogue and nature of the characters, the dynamic duo, are the main focus of the play: they are the comedic drive, evoking constant laughter from the audience. The humour isn't one sided: a perfect mix of situational humour, and clever, witty dialogue. The play is heavy with dialogue: it demands your full, constant attention. So don't expect to relax when you walk into the Theatre: expect electric energy, constantly bouncing between the actors and the audience. It's the perfect theatrical experience.

And finally, behold one of the best selfies ever. Thank-you so much Daniel Radcliffe for greeting everyone who waited in line after the performance. Thankyou for shaking hands, talking, signing autographs and taking selfies with us.  A moment I'd never ever thought would happen.
Your genuine kindness and positive attitude will stay with us forever!

*We don't own any of the images on this review except for the above selfie *


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