Yesterday we went to see Trevor Nunn’s production of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead by Tom Stoppard. Nunn has recently taken over as Artistic Director at The Theatre Royal Haymarket, and this is one of three plays he’s directing there this year (we’ve also got tickets for his production of The Tempest with Ralph Fiennes in September.) If this production was anything to go by, his appointment could be a great asset for the theatre.
The play focuses on two minor characters from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, but transposes them into a typically absurdist ‘wasteland’ setting, where normal elements such as time, memory, chance and logic are suspended. It is an hilarious, whimsical, beautiful, existential piece of theatre playing with all sorts of lofty themes like death, art, reality, madness, determinism and language.
This production was, simply, faultless. In fact all told I enjoyed it more than the production of Waiting for Godot I saw there last year – which I wasn’t expecting. The two main characters were brilliantly portrayed by Samuel Barnett and Jamie Parker; their timing and intonation were flawless, and they really brought out the humour of the play superbly. The ‘question game’ was executed brilliantly and had me in stitches. In fact, I’ve read the play three or four times and hadn’t quite appreciated how consistently humorous it was.
Chris Andrew Mellon did an outstanding job as The Player (replacing Tim Curry, who was originally meant to lend his malleable, creepy face to the role). He looked like a peculiar concoction of Jeremy Beadle, Ross Noble, Matthew Kelly and Beetlejuice… but if you could see past that, his performance was incredibly strong.
I could rave about almost every element… I’ve not been so enthusiastic about a piece of theatre in quite a while. It’s not ‘fresh’ in the sense that it’s a classic piece of absurd theatre (if you’re ever seen any Stoppard, Beckett or Ionesco you’ll know what to expect) but it is absurdism done to perfection. I do on occasion feel that absurd plays can come across as a little tired, with their torrents of futile dialogue and typically minimalist sets, but this had enough energy and focus to keep you rapt in expectation and intrigue.
And to make it better, we had amazing seats in the stalls, and for some unfathomable reason, the people in front of us didn’t return after the interval…
So if you can, you really should go. It runs until 20 August and if you shop around, I’m sure you’ll find some decent offers. I’m sure it’s not everybody’s cup of tea… but you can’t drink tea all your life! Branch out. A splendid time is (almost) guaranteed for all!