Tom Stoppard’s plays have a reputation for being clever and worthy but under the direction of David Leveaux on the 50th anniversary of its opening this stellar cast shows that when a production gets it right they can be highly entertaining multi layered and create a theatrical tour de force.
At the simplest level this is a tale of the waiting games that and the excellent Joshua McGuire as Guildenstern and Daniel Radcliffe as simple minded Rosencrantz play around the court of King Of Denmark. Guildenstern gets most of the best lines because as Rosencrantz says at one point "I can't think of anything, I am only here in support ". They banter and play coin toss games in the hope that as they say “someone interesting will come on in a minute”. There is an excellent sequence where they literally play verbal tennis with each other and acknowledge "Words words, they are all we have to go on”. In these sequences which draw from some of the best comedy double acts in their relationship and exchanges, they are very funny and entertaining.
At the same time they are exploring the nature of fate and its determination of their lives from the improbability of 92 coin tosses ending up heads to their own ability to influence their future. There melancholy acceptance of the events that impact them and their perceived insignificance to the outcomes is both touching and amusing.
At the heart of the play is the use of metatheatre to examine the nature of theatre performance and its relationship with the audience. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are a potential audience to the band of travelling players, led with great wit and stage presence by an outstanding David Haig ,as well as offstage observers to the action in the play Hamlet from which their own characters have been developed. This is most effectively done when Polonius delivers one of his speeches from Hamlet directly at the audience, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern stand alongside him totally bemused at who is talking to as they peer out into the audience. Another key scene which is well delivered is the play within the play where Rosencrantz and Guildenstern own death is foreshadowed to their own confusion but to the certain knowledge of the Old Vic audience.
The production is simply but effectively staged using the full depth of the Old Vic
I have never enjoyed a Stoppard play as much as in this production which reinforces the Old Vic as a venue for great theatre. If you can get a ticket go, or else look out in case this gets a deserved live cinema broadcast.
Review by Nick Wayne