Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead at the Old Vic
It’s 50 years since the West End debut of Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, and the Old Vic has tried to sprinkle a bit of magic over its latest revival, bringing in Harry Potter himself to tackle one of the leads.
The titular pair are baffled little creatures, clinging on to the hem of Hamlet’s great tapestry; it is from this viewpoint that Stoppard starts to stitch his own meta-narrative. Yet the play is as much indebted to Waiting for Godot as it is to its source material. In fact, while in spirit it could sort of exist without Hamlet, it may never have materialised without the influence of Beckett’s masterpiece.
Despite some of the most overt influence-brandishing ever seen on stage Stoppard manages to create something that fizzes with melancholic delight. One can even feel the playwright mature over the interval, the clever-clever cartoon of the first act giving way to a philosophically heavier second half (Fate! Death! Pirates!).
But enough about the play, let’s get to the main question: how was Daniel Radcliffe? Well, he was…good. In a curious bit of casting, Radcliffe is performing as Rosencrantz, the slightest of the three main roles. He often ends up fading into the background, not quite getting his chops around Stoppard’s streams of verbosity with the same panache as his colleagues. Radcliffe does rev up significantly for the “questions” game, and his meditations on death are touching; nevertheless, though he may be the reason many people are in the audience, he likely won’t be what they remember best.
That honour goes to David Haig, who swaggers about looking like Keith Richards, captain to a band of ghoulish clowns and glum musicians, his Player chewing up and spitting out Stoppard’s dialogue with palpable glee. Joshua McGuire, meanwhile, is the Brain to Radcliffe’s Pinky, his Guildenstern a pompous faux-intellectual who is just as clueless as his put-upon partner; McGuire is a bit shouty at times, but it is hard to resist his grinning mug.
David Leveaux directs with an elegant hand, especially when the players are involved; and Anna Fleischle’s set uses the entire depth of the Old Vic’s stage, a series of cloudy panels creating a sort of dreamscape or, perhaps more pertinently, a sense of purgatory. It’s a fine production, with fine performances that ends up being, well, fine. It is a shame, however, that the Old Vic couldn’t usher in something a bit more radical, and a bit less respectful, for the play’s big anniversary.
Photo: Manuel Harlan
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead is at the Old Vic from 7th March until 29th April 2017. Book your tickets here.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead has its NT Live screening in cinemas across the UK on 20th April 2017.