An existential crisis drives the plot of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. The two title characters are locked into the fate decided for them in Hamlet. While they will die, as they cannot alter what William Shakespeare created, they can debate on life, probability, and meaning- while attempting to remember their own names.
Tom Stoppard’s play takes the two characters, memorable only because they are completely non-distinguishable, and develops them into a play that focuses on their own identity crises, the action of Hamlet swirling around them.
This excellent production, directed by Krishna Omkar, places the characters on a giant chessboard, literally turning them into pawns of a higher will. Guildenstern, played by William Spray, exudes a cool severity as he slinks around the board. His tone remains composed and focused, even if his train of thought rarely makes sense. Rosencrantz, meanwhile, played by Liam Well, moves around the board with excited energy, and manages admirably to combine awe, interest, and confusion.
Finishing off the cast is a group of tragedians, led by Tom Carlisle, whose booming and confident voice makes him the ideal salesman of tragedy. The tragedians also double as the Danish court. This decision artfully meshes the two groups, since both are directing tragedies in their own right. The tragedians slide across the board like dancers, taking positions which mimic the great misfortunes of human existence that occur within Hamlet; murder, adultery, and deception.
Identity and existence are questions that the characters continually debate. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern do not connect with each other or even with their own selves, often forgetting where and who they are. The production emphasizes their confusion by placing the two under a white spot-light, while the other characters languish under dimmer lighting.
As the production progresses, the white light serves to highlight the changing movements of the title characters. Rosencrantz’s, with his bursts of fractured energy, begins to resemble a trapped animal, while Guildenstern has moments of stillness, standing locked within himself. Therein lies the strength behind the production’s minimalist set. While the action may take the characters to court or to a ship, their bodies remain attached to a game in which they cannot deter their fate.
4 stars out of 5