Theatre Review: Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead

Intelligent acting brings a touching humanity to Trevor Nunn’s new production of ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD.

It has been a season of many Hamlets and we’ve all heard the Great Dane agonizing over whether or not to be.

But for Rosencrantz and Guildernstern, Hamlet’s tortured musings are even more puzzling. These two hapless fellows are dragged from chamber to court on an ill-informed and chaotically delegated mission to find out what afflicts Hamlet. Hilariously they achieve nothing and find out even less - whilst around them the tragedy of the indecisive Prince, his fragile Ophelia, his possibly oedipal mother and his usurping uncle, plays out in snippets.

Tom Stoppard’s play tells the story of Hamlet as seen from the point of view of two of its minor characters. But more important than Hamlet’s fate is the seemingly inane but often illuminating chatter of the put-upon friends, who don’t really know why they’re there or where they would be if they weren’t.

The parallels with Beckett’s Vladimir and Estragon are clear, and Trevor Nunn’s production emphasizes these shamelessly with an opening scene straight from Waiting For Godot.

Jamie Parker and Samuel Barnett bring a touching humanity to the title characters, delivering the verbose lines with unselfconscious candor. Stoppard would not be Stoppard without his trademark flamboyance of lexicon, but after a long day it’s rather nice to have the hard work of comprehending him done for you by a pair of intelligent actors.

* Showing at Theatre Royal Haymarket in Suffolk Street, SW1, until Saturday, August 20.