Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead

Rosencrantz: [Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are about to be hanged] That’s it then, is it? We’ve done nothing wrong. We didn’t harm anybody, did we?
Guildenstern: I can’t remember.
Rosencrantz: All right, then. I don’t care. I’ve had enough. To tell you the truth, I’m relieved.
Guildenstern: There must have been a moment at the beginning, where we could have said no. Somehow we missed it. Well, we’ll know better next time.
The Player: Till then.

A couple of weeks ago we saw Lodestar’s Hamlet at St Georges Hall Concert Room – part of this year’s Liverpool Shakespeare Festival. Lodestar are also performing Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead in parallel with Hamlet and last night we watched it in the smart new theatre at the CUC on Greenland street.

Tom Stoppard’s play sees the events of Hamlet through the eyes of the two minor characters who stumble haplessly, searching desperately for a glimmer of meaning in the indecipherable events that have become entangled them.

Player: Events must play themselves out to aesthetic, moral and logical conclusion.
Guildenstern: And what’s that, in this case?
Player: It never varies — we aim at the point where everyone who is marked for death dies.
Guildenstern: Marked?
Player: Between “just desserts” and “tragic irony” we are given quite a large scope for our particular talent. Generally speaking, things have gone about as far as they can possibly go when things have gotten about as bad as they can reasonably get.
Guildenstern: Who decides?
Player: Decides? It is written.

Guildenstern: We’re still finding our feet.
The Player: I should concentrate on not losing your head.

I enjoyed it tremendously, though there was some feeling in our party that the text, especially in the first half, was too dense. And on the night we were there, much of the comedy seemed to fall flat with a decidedly unresponsive audience; it’s the first time I’ve seen the actors leave the stage at the interval to no applause.  Yet the performances by Richard Kelly as Rosencrantz and Simon Hedger as Guildenstern were excellent, as was the direction by Max Rubin.

Guildenstern: I think I have it. A man talking sense to himself is no madder than a man talking nonsense not to himself.
Rosencrantz: Or just as mad.
Guildenstern: Or just as mad.
Rosencrantz: And he does both.
Guildenstern: So there you are.
Rosencrantz: Stark raving sane.

Extracts here from three positive reviews:

“Utterly, utterly brilliant… it’s important to urge you, if you’re in the Liverpool area and you have an interest in theatre, however vague, to seek out this production… I laughed like a drainpipe all night… Kelly and Hedger are one of the best theatrical double acts I’ve seen… The few occasions I wasn’t laughing simply because I was enjoying the spectacle of two young actors at the top of their game…” Hamlet weblog

“It’s a challenging play that Lodestar tackles extremely well, with strong directing by Max Rubin.Liam Tobin almost steals the show with his flamboyant portrayal of  The Player, while Richard Kelly shows experience beyond his 23 years. He brings real comedy to the role of the befuddled Rosencrantz, whose existentialist questions have a great wisdom beneath their foolish tone. He is perfectly matched with Simon Hedger, the other half of the doomed duo, whose performance enriches the script.” Laura Davies, Daily Post

Richard Kelly as Rosencrantz and Simon Hedger’s Guildenstern are never less than engaging as the Beckett-like characters dropped into the middle of a situation they struggle to comprehend, their destiny seemingly pre-determined and impossible to alter. They live in a shadowy ‘off stage’ world, sporadically interrupted with snippets of scenes directly from Shakespeare’s tragedy – seen from Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s perspective, and populated entertainingly by the band of travelling theatricals, the Tragedians, led by Tobin who they first meet on the road to Elsinore offering ‘a selection of gory romances’ and ‘transvestite melodrama’. It’s certainly not an easy evening, concerned as the play is with existential, philosophical ideas of order, logic, certainty and confusion in the face of an apparently meaningless world. But it is a satisfying one. Liverpool Echo

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead is an absurdist, existentialist tragicomedy with shades of Waiting For Godot, first staged at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 1966…Major themes of the play include existentialism, free will vs. determinism, the search for value, and the impossibility of certainty. As with many of Tom Stoppard’s works, the play has a love for cleverness and language. It treats language as a confounding system fraught with ambiguity. (Wikipedia)

“I was not in the least interested in doing any sort of pastiche, for a start, or in doing a criticism of Hamlet – that was simply one of the by-products. The chief interest and objective was to exploit a situation which seemed to me to have enormous dramatic and comic potential – of these two guys who in Shakespeare’s context don’t really know what they’re doing. The little they are told is mainly lies, and there’s no reason to suppose that they ever find out why they are killed. And, probably more in the early 1960s than at any other time, that would strike a young playwright as being a pretty good thing I mean, it has the right combination of specificity and vague generality, which was interesting at that time to (it seemed) eight out of ten playwrights. That’s why, when the play appeared, it got subjected to so many different kinds of interpretation, all of them plausible, but none them calculated.” – Tom Stoppard, Stoppard’s Theatre: Finding Order Amid Chaos

At the beginning of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, the two central characters are flipping coins and arguing about their tendency to come up heads every time. At the end, all the characters in both plays (Stoppard’s and Shakespeare’s Hamlet, which has been running along in the background) die … except for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, who disappear in a cloud of sentence fragments. What movement has there been? At the beginning of the play, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are assuming that there must be an explanation for the phenomenal run of heads; they are still operating under the old idea of order in the world. At the play’s end, they have given up the idea of explanations. Susan Wise Bauer, The Well-Educated Mind

Rosencrantz: I don’t believe in it anyway.
Guildenstern: What?
Rosencrantz: England.
Guildenstern: Just a conspiracy of cartographers, then?

Guildenstern: We cross our bridges when we come to them, and burn them behind us, with nothing to show for our progress except a memory of the smell of smoke, and a presumption that once our eyes watered.

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