first night

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

Pegah Moradi kicks of this year's reviewing with DUCT's 'Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead'



‘Shouldn’t we be doing something…constructive?’ is one of the many (and I mean, many) questions Rosencrantz (Hugh Train) and Guildenstern (Jenny Walser) ask whilst twiddling their thumbs and delving into philosophical ponderings as Shakespeare’s Hamlet unfolds in the background. We often wonder what the minor characters think when the focus in plays is almost entirely on the protagonist. In many ways, their very presence is pivotal and without them a play like Hamlet can not take shape. Top Stoppard’s play pushes Rosencrantz and Guildenstern centre stage and DUCT breathes life into their story.

Although both Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are typically male cast members, the decision to have both male and female joint-protagonists physically embodies the idea that the characters are two sides of the same coin. Train and Walser worked well with (and against) each other as the pragmatic Rosencrantz and philosophical Guildenstern respectively. Train’s endearing portrayal of Rosencrantz and his perfect comedic timing never once failed to reduce the audience to fits of laughter; the moment we thought that he could not possibly beat his former delivery, with the same amount of wit and charm, he proved us wrong…again. And again. And again.

Train’s companion, Walser, delivers yet another breathtaking DST performance. Her ability to utter lines with utmost naturalism and express her frustration at Rosencrantz’s forgetfulness with controlled, physical movement was a joy to watch. It is the norm to watch who else is speaking on stage; but it is difficult to take your eyes off Walser as you watch the thoughts forming in her mind to create a response that is delivered as effortlessly as stream of consciousness.

Between the meaningful futility, on which Train and Walser contemplate, comes the explosive energy that is The Player (Tyler Rainford). Rainford’s physical eccentricities in movement and expression come together to mould the actor whose factious remarks reveal a perceptive outlook on reality. His Tragedians, however, varied in their performances. Dominic McGovern’s hilarious performance as Alfred and Mike White’s physical embodiment as the tall and hench Tragedian exemplified the character development that every cast member in the ensemble required, despite being silent for the majority of this near-perfect production.

The overall simplicity of the set was a suitable backdrop; a blank canvas on which the characters painted their philosophical discoveries. Technically, the entire show was slick with on cue sound and lighting, most notably when the lighting spoke Guildenstern’s last word. Special mention must also be given to costumer Fi Brindle for the considered compilation of velvet capes, breeches and embroidered cloaks.  

Director, Dom Williams, presents onto the Assembly Rooms stage a nuanced production, in which every twitch, every scratch, and every knowing smile hints at an unfolding of events. Williams’ eye for detail, balance, and symmetry calls for abundant praise. His vision for chorographical accuracy was sustained throughout this performance, which lasted just over 2hrs and 30 mins. Fear not, there were two intervals to prevent the usual restlessness caused by long performances. Consider the reference to the length of the play as mere information, rather than a warning; and consider it a must to watch this production, whether you’re wanting a philosophical end to the week; a dive into the thoughts of two minor characters, turned protagonists, from Hamlet; or, simply, a good laugh by watching Train’s sea-sickness wash over him.

 As the first theatrical performance of the year, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead proves that DST productions offer more than just a short, blunt, human pyramid. If you didn’t get that comment, it clearly means that you need to be sitting on one of those red velvety chairs in the Assembly Rooms — you have until the 18th of October. Hurry. 

17 October 2014

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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