‘Rosencrantz & Guildenstern’ gives killer performances
When you think of Shakespeare’s plays, you immediately think of tragedy and drama, like “Macbeth” and “Romeo and Juliet.” Despite the fact that he wrote some comedies, his tragedies seem to be more well-known. Walking into “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead,” written by Tom Stoppard, the vibe was the complete opposite. This play was an upbeat and funny production and all-around good time to experience.
The play is based on the original story of “Hamlet” but looks at the plot through the eyes of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Hamlet’s friends. In Shakespeare’s play, they have minor roles, so placing them front and center along with the performance troupe, the Tragedians, that performs for the royal family in a scene in the original play, was an interesting twist on the story. This play follows the same plot as Shakespeare’s original work, but the story focuses on what Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are doing behind the scenes of the story rather than on the main plot and characters. For example, there is a scene in which Rosencrantz and Guildenstern watch the Tragedians’ rehearsal for their performance for the royal court that is seen in “Hamlet.”
While this play clearly had a much lighter feeling than “Hamlet,” I enjoyed the little allusions made to Shakespeare’s work. For example, in the original play, Rozencrantz and Guildenstern are pretty much the same character. “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead” played off of this idea by having none of the characters know which member of the duo was which. This was such a fun element and a clear reference to include for anyone who has ever read or studied “Hamlet,” and I appreciated it.
Another aspect of the show that was very impressive was the symbolism of the set and lighting. The set was very simple using just a few large wooden pieces that seemed to reflect the backstage area of a theater, which symbolizes the fact that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are often in the background of the story of Hamlet. At points during the show characters such as Hamlet, Cladius and Gertrude would cross upstage and lights representing stage lights would shine as they passed. This was used to mirror the fact that these characters are the leads in the story of “Hamlet”. This was only shown in the background of the play because the main story of “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead” is on the outskirts of the main plot of Hamlet.
Watching the lead actors’ chemistry on stage was also fascinating. Alex Hunt, who plays Rosencrantz, and Jeremy Webb, who plays Guildenstern, played off of each other incredibly well. There was such an easy and natural flow in the way they interacted with each other that was very fun to watch. The way they conversed was almost as if they shared the same thoughts. Their acting also involved a lot of physical comedy, which looked very cohesive.
The main criticism I have concerning this play is that some plot elements and scene transitions were a bit confusing. The play begins with Rosencranz and Guildenstern flipping coins on their way to see the king. As they journey, the Tragedians arrive and offer the two a show. Then the scene changes and Rosencranz and Guildenstern are at the king’s court and familiar scenes from “Hamlet” start to emerge. When seeing the play, I was rather perplexed about what was happening in the first scene. This scene didn’t seem to have a clear purpose other than introducing some of the characters, so it did not feel like the best way to start the show. The transition to the king’s court was also very abrupt, creating confusion about how Rosencrantz and Guildenstern arrived and what happened to the Tragedians. This made it very hard to enjoy the performance at first, but once the the play reached familiar scenes from “Hamlet,” the story became clear.
Despite some confusion at the beginning of the play, it was still amusing overall. If someone is looking to watch something with a complex storyline I would suggest seeing something else, but for someone who just wants to see something funny and have a good time, this show is perfect.