Tom Stoppard’sRosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Deadis an absurdist tragicomedy founded on universal questions of human existence and the despairing search for significance and guidance. It is at first a testament to the riches embedded within Shakespeare’sHamlet,thereafter emerging as a frighteningly intelligent contemporary text drenched in dazzling wordplay, literary allusion and philosophical appropriation.
Under the direction of Simon Phillips, Tim Minchin (Rosencrantz) and Toby Schmitz (Guildenstern) deliver engaging performances as two courtiers struggling to identify who they are, what they’re doing and where they’re going. As Ros, Minchin brings jovial naivety to a character whose pragmatism allows him to dodge the seriousness of the pair’s predetermined destiny – death. Schmitz’s Guil on the contrary, in all his boisterous, flustered glory, aligns with Stoppard’s compulsion to meditate on themes of human rights, freedom from political systems and morality. Combined, Minchin and Schmitz generate a theatrical charisma that persuades us to embrace the intricate, nonetheless rhythmic, web of witty puns so vital to the narrative even if we can’t keep up. And by no means is Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead a two-man show. The Player, brought to life by a convincingly scoundrel-like Ewen Leslie, projects and withdraws his grandiosity at all the right moments.
Gabriela Tylesova’s perspective bending, deeply-raked stage obliterates any formal conditioning of time and space; the transient netherworld in which our protagonists exist is truly suspended between the real and the imagined. With menacing black portals on either side, Ros and Guil have a number of entrances and exists through which to pursue their fate. Alas, the only movement in and out remains a luxury for the characters and events of Hamlet. Our two protagonists remain confined to the one space – a halfway space that compromises their very understanding of what it means to be human.
The production pedigree of Phillips’ Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead is almost unchallengeable. To make sense of Ros and Guil’s desperate search for reason and purpose in a confused world would destroy Stoppard’s willingness to embrace the nonsensical. I leave you with the words of The Player: “Relax. Respond. That’s what people do. You can’t go through life questioning your situation at every turn.