Having been summoned by the new King of Denmark to visit their old friend Hamlet, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern attempt to make sense of the peculiar goings-on in the castle whilst engaging in an ongoing philosophical debate about free will versus predestination, each trying to prove absurd positions through misbegotten experiments.
Anna Fleischle’s design is one of soft but sinister pink clouds against a blue sky which echoes Tiepolo’s paintwork on the walls and ceiling, which never come to a definite conclusion. A curtain of a faded map separates the pair from the rest of the play and is drawn across to show snippets of the lives of the characters in Hamlet. Small nooks allow the pair to hide when others enter and at points they even freeze against the curtain, hoping to be mistaken for part of the painting.
David Leveaux’s production is sharp and expertly explores the subplots and subtext which surround each character’s journey. Witty and with excellent physical comedy from movement director Lizzi Gee, the action is tinted with sadness as we are constantly reminded amidst the laughter that this is a play about two innocent men travelling towards their deaths.
Tom Stoppard’s philosophical tragicomedy still shines brightly, flawlessly flitting between the words of Shakespeare and modern speech; upon being asked to bring Claudius the prince Hamlet, Rosencrantz cheerfully replies “Ho, Guildenstern! Bring in my lord.” As Claudius exits, Guildenstern turns to Rosencrantz, screeching “What the f-” and Claudius enters thus returning to Shakespeare’s traditional language. The pair also frequently interject other’s monologues with colloquial speech; as Polonius delivers his aside “How say you by that? Still harping on my daughter.” Rosencrantz and Guildenstern whisper to each other, wondering why he is speaking to the wall and gaze with hilarious confusion at the ‘wall’ also before diving back into the corner as Polonius begins speaking one more to Hamlet.
Daniel Radcliffe as Rosencrantz and Joshua McGuire’s Guildenstern are wonderful as the double-act, bewildered to as to their mission, bickering like a married couple, swapping syllogisms or playing games; buoyant, melancholic and verbally agile, the pair complete what the other is not. As Rosencrantz anxiously flits around the castle, full of bafflement yet occasional moments of clarity about their task. Guildenstern is an endless bundle of energy and nerves, often beside himself with aggressive confusion and philosophical notions of death.
David Haig is fantastic as the Player, flirting with his own impending death yet not allowing it to cloud his life as the protagonists are. Alongside are the charming turns from the players, who readily spring into action when Haig commands and the distraught, arrogant characters of Hamlet who frequently interrupt Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s games and discussions.
Playwright: Tom Stoppard
Direction: David Leveaux
Set Designer: Anna Fleischle
Associate Set Designer: Loren Elstein
Lighting Designer: Howard Harrison
Sound Designer: Fergus O’Hare
Costume Designer: Anna Fleischle and Loren Elstein
Composer: Corin Buckeridge
Movement Director: Lizzi Gee
Casting Director: Jessica Ronane CDG
Cast: Joshua McGuire, Daniel Radcliffe, David Haig, Hermeilio Miguel Aquino, Louisa Beadel, William Chubb, Josie Dunn, Matthew Durkan, Tim Van Eyken, Wil Johnson, Luke Mullins, Theo Ogundipe, Marianna Oldham, Evlyne Oyedokun, Alex Sawyer, Helena Wilson
Photo: Alastair Muir