Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead
The Old Vic Theatre, 27th March 2017
Sorry I have come a bit late to the party here both in seeing this and then setting down a few thoughts. I am still a Stoppard virgin so you must treat me gently and this is the first time I have seen this.
So how did I fare? Well much like Travesties a few weeks earlier I was left breathless and in awe of Mr Stoppard’s dazzling intellect and wit. I reckon a few more of his plays and a few more years and I might crack this but for now baby steps. When this came on to the scene 50 years ago it must have been a revelation for its early audiences. My near contemporary arrival in the world left less of a mark – still my mum was probably pleased to see me.
To interrogate the nature of how we see events and construct meaning, to question the role of chance, to ask why we make the choices that we do and to examine notions of free will and mortality, and to do this in the context of a play itself that is genuinely full of laughs (not just knowing sniggers) and a plot of sorts that moves forward, and is based on possibly the most famous play ever which itself deals with not dissimilar questions – it’s a miracle of sorts that the whole thing doesn’t just collapse under its own contradictions and ambition.
Now that doesn’t mean there weren’t a few “whoosh over the head” moments for me and it can be hard work to keep up even with the Hamletian anchor. Stoppard properly f*cks about with your head. But for me it yields a theatrical pleasure from all the hard work that is not replicated elsewhere. To think perchance to laugh.
I can’t imagine any improvements to David Leveaux’s production and Daniel Radcliffe and Joshua McGuire seem a perfect match as our hapless heroes. McGuire in particular, who carries more than I realised of the text, is very strong and you can practically hear his brain whirring through the gears as tries to solve the puzzles that he and his chum have to face. And David Haig, who teetered perilously close to annoying in Blue/Orange at the Young Vic with his singular bluster, was just right I think as the Player.
So whilst I may have started with an air of cultural obligation in seeing these two Stoppard plays in recent weeks I come out persuaded and look forward to the next adventure. If you agree, all well and good but if you don’t I completely understand. It might pass the Pete and Bernie’s Philosophical SteakHouse pretension test for me – but I suspect there are a whole bunch of people who secretly hold fast to an “emperor’s new clothes” view and I can see why.
Still packed houses at the Old Vic for properly ambitious theatre must be a good thing. Next up Woyzeck.