AND GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD
by Tom Stoppard
Bard on the Beach
June 30-September 23
In Rosencrantz and Guildenstern
Are Dead, Tom Stoppard gives Hamlet’s philosophical
conundrum, “To be or not to be,” to two of Shakespeare’s
lesser characters to solve.
Whereas noble Prince Hamlet’s death is a great tragedy, the
demise of his fellow-students, who operate on the periphery of Hamlet,
is worthy of just a throwaway line in Shakespeare’s play.
Stoppard makes it the title of his brilliant existential comedy.
The two little men, so insignificant they can’t even keep
their own names straight, he puts centre stage, and turns Hamlet,
Polonius, Gertrude, Claudius and Ophelia into minor characters.
A pastiche of theatrical influences, the play borrows freely from
Arthur Miller’s argument that the common man is the modern
tragic hero; from Beckett’s absurd Waiting
for Godot, whose Didi and Gogo pass their time considering
life and death while waiting for instructions; and Oscar Wilde,
whose puns and witticisms are central to Stoppard’s literate
Stoppard also indirectly cites Pirandello’s Six
Characters in Search of an Author on art and life, making
the Player, another minor character in Shakespeare, a source of
philosophical wisdom. It’s he who answers Guildenstern’s
bewildered cry, “We don’t know how to act!” To
live, R&G learn, is to act. The problem is to understand the
nature of the script.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are
Dead turns Hamlet
inside-out, so Bard on the Beach runs the two plays in rep, using
the same set, cast and director (Dean Paul Gibson). And like Bard’s
R&G is a triumph.
Haig Sutherland and Stephen Holmes play the anti-heroes to perfection.
Sutherland’s Rosencrantz begins as the naïf, Holmes’
Guildenstern as the thoughtful logician. Later they reverse positions.
Both run the gamut of confusion, frustration and despair. Very funny
and sweetly pathetic, they hold the stage for long stretches, giving
sharp clarity to Stoppard’s complex ideas and wordplay. When
faced with the foot soldiers’ ethical dilemma of whether to
obey orders and be complicit in the murder of their friend Hamlet,
their anguish is profoundly moving.
Russell Roberts, sensational in Hamlet,
delivers another remarkable performance as Stoppard’s Player:
both dandy and pragmatic professional, he knows that “life
is a gamble at terrible odds.” His troupe of motley actors
(Kyle Rideout, Josue Laboucane, Michael Scholar, Jr., Torrance Coombs
and Moya O’Connell, who doubles as Ophelia) provides wonderful
entertainment, aided by Gibson’s imaginative direction and
Nick Harrison’s clever combat choreography.
Poor acoustics make some of the dialogue hard to hear but it’s
worth the extra concentration. This is great, intelligent theatre.
Don’t miss it.