Review: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead made Tom Stoppard famous. His audacious comedy, now nearly 50 years old, was written when the Czech born wordsmith was only 29 years old. First staged by Oxford students at the Edinburgh Fringe in 1966, a little over a year later it was on Broadway. Still possessing the power to fuse the synapses, Simon Phillips’ production goes one better and finds the work’s elusive poignancy.
While set in the wings of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, as it were, Ros & Guil really rides on the coattails of Beckett’s Waiting For Godot. Our eponymous heroes, like Vladimir and Estragon before them, are waiting. They try to make sense of the unusual situation in which they find themselves, all the while hoping that something or someone will arrive to give their lives purpose. Soon others make their entrances and exits but our hapless courtiers are stuck in one space. Things get more intense as it slowly dawns on them they are locked into a story with no happy ending. Apparently, Stoppard set out to “combine a farce with a play of ideas” and Ros & Guil is indeed just that, a farce that makes us laugh yet leaves a bittersweet aftertaste.
This production succeeds brilliantly because Phillips manages to balance the wit and word-play with the darker, pessimistic themes. This is greatly assisted by designer Gabriela Tyson’s whose flamboyant costumes are offset by a steeply raked stage with black portals that lead to nothingness. There is also a kind of outrageous freshness to it all, in part, because of the unflagging energy and comic precision of the outstanding cast.
Tim Minchen (Ros) and Toby Schmitz (Guil) make a terrific double act. You expect a pair of great clowns to unpack their bags of tricks but they also make us care about their fate and the closing moments with each in a spot on opposite sides of the stage, mortality hanging in the air, was incredibly moving.
Ewen Leslie brings bucket loads of swagger and style to the role of The Player. He makes every scene he’s in simply soar. I also want to make mention of Tim Walter’s wonderfully irreverent turn as Hamlet. He was a hoot.
Grab a ticket if you can.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, Sydney Theatre. Until 14 September. Bookings: 02 9250 1777