Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead
By Tom Stoppard
Directed by Simon Phillips
Production by the Sydney Theatre Company
Sydney Theatre Company’s bankable production of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead has opened at Sydney Theatre in The Rocks. The production, with its popular casting and much-loved script, was no doubt intended to draw a younger crowd than other STC productions, and from the crowd in the foyer it appears to be working. The casting and the script have been hotly anticipated since the season launch last year.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead is arguably Tom Stoppard’s most renowned work. The play comprises of what could be the deleted scenes from Shakespeare’s Hamlet: the lens in the other rooms in Hamlet’s house, where Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (or is it Guildenstern and Rosencrantz?) unknowingly wait out their few remaining days.
It is a strange and wonderful insight into the previously sidelined characters in one of the greatest plays in history. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern have been trapped, unable to leave, unable to gain attention, unable even to figure out what direction they are facing. Most notably, the play and its players are funny, in an absurd sort of way.
The production, featuring Toby Schmitz as Guildenstern and Tim Minchin as Rosencrantz, is directed by former MTC artistic director Simon Phillips. His wealth of experience and confidence in his own abilities are evident. There are many bizarre moments in the production, including snippets from or allusions to the original Hamlet text, and they are executed with boldness.
The set design by Gabriela Tylesova is very good, isolating the characters in limbo, and repeatedly acting as a comedic device. Rosencrantz spends much of his time searching for ways out, and instead ends up at the edge of an exit, peering out, observing those moving around with freedom. The many entrances and exits also allow for the fleeting, whimsical references to Hamlet.
The cast are a wonderful ensemble of actors, musicians and comedians all rolled into one. The supporting actors: Paul Cutlan, John Gaden, George Kemp, Angus King, Heather Mitchell, Nicholas Papademetriou, Adele Querol, Berynn Schwerdt, Christopher Stollery, Aaron Tsindos and Tim Walter, provide a vibrant backdrop to the title characters.
Tim Minchin, although lacking some of the stage presence of the other actors, is pretty damn loveable as the ill-fated Rosencrantz, Toby Schmitz is impressive as the moody, philosophising Guildenstern, and the pair of them have excellent comic rapport and timing. The real star of the production, however, is Ewen Leslie. Leslie, as The Player, is nearly unrecognisable with his shaggy hair and significantly older demeanour. He is hilarious, intense, dangerous and utterly convincing, and it is a shame that this production was not renamed Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead But Don’t Worry Because The Player Lives On.
Ultimately, the play is very enjoyable and extremely well-conceived. It is bold, the actors have excellent comic timing, and the script is (obviously) a knockout. It was no doubt a clever choice by the programming department at STC, as they will certainly continue to entice younger audiences through the door with productions like this one.