Raise a hand if you can pronounce the title of this play, “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead”, in one go without twisting your tongue - because I can’t! So, I am going to refer to it from now it as ‘RaG’ in my review, because even typing it in full is a hassle.
I heard about this play for the first time at my very first job, where we had the movie with same title available at the library. It was released in 1990 and had two of my (now) favourite actors - Gary Oldman and Tim Roth. I never had a chance to rent this movie and for years ‘RaG’ in my head was labelled as ‘that one movie I never got to watch’. I knew that it was somehow linked to Shakespeare, but only later I learned that it was originally a play by Tom Stoppard and not a movie (the movie had Stoppard as both director and writer). When National Theatre announced this play in honour of the play’s 50th anniversary and casted Joshua McGuire and Daniel Radcliffe (the latter I had been dying to see on stage), I was ready to buy tickets on spot. I believe that the fact that ex Harry Potter was on stage had to do something with the younger than usual audience at the broadcast - which is great as I would love to more younger people go to theatre. I watched this play on April 20, and if I could, I would watch it again.
As per usual, I set my mind on reading the play before watching it on stage, but I didn’t have time to finish it. And I am glad it happened this way as I think it is easy to get lost in the absurdist nature of the dialogues and miss the point, while watching it on stage added a different layer of meaning.
If you don’t know what this play is about but you feel that it is vaguely familiar, well, you are not alone. Tom Stoppard took two secondary characters, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, from Shakespeare’s Hamlet and wrote an absurdist, existentialist tragicomedy that portrays those two inseparable friends as confused and unwilling participants in the events of Hamlet. There are bits of dialogues and actual scenes from Hamlet, but they are used to only enhance the absurdity of everything that is happening. R and G are confused by their existence, by the world’s existence, by everything that is happening, including Hamlet’s depression and obsession with his father’s death. They futilely try to find the meaning in everything, but eventually, even when they discover that the letter with death sentence that they carry has their names, they still follow the appointed road to the end.
The play is funny, absurd, existential, and thought provoking. It is a meta within a meta, and theatrical bits and scenes serve as the commentary and parody on Hamlet. Both Joshua McGuire and Daniel Radcliffe do an amazing job as two confused fellows, who try and fail to make sense of things. They talk about life and death, and probability. The play has too many layers to take in just in one viewing. That is why I hope I would get a chance to see it on stage again, as I feel in no way qualified to talk about the play indepth.
The play was introduced by a short movie, as usual, with both actors talking about the play and stage. The Old Vic’s stage was transformed and sort of elongated to bring it closer to the audience. The play originally premiered in the same theatre 50 years ago, which made it an incredible experience for both the actors and the audience to experience it again on the same stage.
Highly recommend to English majors, Shakespeare lovers as well as fans of theatre!
Personal rating: 4 stars
- Trailer: https://youtu.be/rLik8gLlNIo