Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.

Wednesday saw my 40th Birthday, and to celebrate I went to see Tom Stoppard’s brilliant Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead at the Old Vic with a Chum. While Daniel Radcliffe & Joshua Maguire lead, the show is stolen by a magisterial performance by David Haig as The Player, a sort of luvvie-pimp-cum-impresario who holds the whole play, in its absurdity, together.

The play is Hamlet, seen from the point of view of two minor characters, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, old friends of Hamlet’s. The hapless pair spend the play wondering what they’re doing and why, having been recalled to Elsinore by Claudius to find out why Hamlet’s being such a dick, moping about and talking gibberish to himself (“to be, or not to be…” etc). They are eventually betrayed by their friend, who suspects them of working for his uncle which they are, sort of.

The play is therefore a meditation on the futility of existence, and the limitations of people’s personal agency. Most people get on with their lives, as bit parts in a greater drama, not really sure as to the direction of events, or even of the past. After all, what have Rosencrantz and Guildenstern got to go on, but what can be gleaned from a few words of Shakespeare’s, as metaphor for everyone’s flawed and self-serving memory. Any interrogator or detective will tell you about the reliability of eye-witnesses and the difficulty of establishing the truth.

From everyone’s point of view then, even when we’re at the centre of events, most of the action is happening offstage. There will have been some point at which you could have said “no”, but you missed it. Then you die.

If you can get tickets, do so.

4 replies
  1. Momentary Academic.
    Momentary Academic. says:

    The one thing that struck me about R&G when I saw it most recently–at the Folger Shakespeare Theater in Washington DC–was how much time the characters spend waiting. We wait so much in life for a certain time of year, for the laundry to be done, for a visitor to arrive, for the train to come. We wait. We wait. We wait.

    In this play, waiting isn't necessarily terrible or a bad thing (until it is). However, there are some really excellent conversations, exchanges, and moments that can happen during that time of waiting, especially when you're in the company of someone you've always been around, sometimes even when you're not quite sure why you're around them. In this case, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are stitched together because of history, another play, another universe, and two playwrights, but their connection is still one that is meaningful, magical and intensified by the wait.

    I would have loved to wait with you to see the play and to wait for your thoughts about it in person. But this is a pretty good substitute.

  2. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Hello Very British Dude, I have been coming to your blog for years and I would love to read your opinions on this very uninspiring general election coming up.


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