Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead: the metatheatrical masterpiece brought to life

To be perfectly honest, when I saw that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead was on at the Old Vic and I had the opportunity to get tickets, I was motivated to accept the tickets due to a combination of my inner Shakespeare fangirl and my love for Daniel Radcliffe without any knowledge of the play itself. Granted, I was interested in going to the theatre – I adore the theatre, and if it was cheaper I would be there at least once a week. But I was more than pleasantly surprised by what I witnessed that night.

The play opens with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, paused on their journey to Hamlet’s castle, after being summoned by King Claudius and Queen Gertrude to try and knock some sense into Hamlet. From the rise of the curtain through to the end of the first act, they are portrayed as clowns of the show, as Stoppard takes full advantage of their limited involvement within Hamlet to create a life for them. The first act is amusing, but the same lines in the second act become melancholy as the characters realise their helplessness in preventing their own doomed fates, at the whim of whatever being is controlling their narrative.

Radcliffe and McGuire’s chemistry is amazing, the rapport between them flowing naturally and creating great humour. Although Radcliffe’s cinematic training is clear throughout – he did not project enough, and his voice was lost somewhere in the stalls, often failing to reach me in upper circle. Oftentimes it felt like McGuire was carrying the dialogue due to this, but this was in part due to the natural balance between their characters.

David Leveaux made the stage at the Old Vic extradionarily deep, which at first appeared to me to be somewhat strange. But the production used this fully, with the travelling troop entering from the back and leaving via it, as well as dividing the stage with a half curtain to separate the two central characters from the main action.

The performance of David Haig was also standout. His character, combined with Alfred, played by Matthew Durkan, were the ones that generated the most laughs throughout the show due to a combination of Stoppard’s brilliant dialogue and their performances.

The chaos of the final moments of the play are beautifully punctuated by Theo Ogundipe’s yelling of Horatio’s final lines of the play, leaving every audience member stunned and barely able to remember the jokes that they had laughed so hard at in the first act. 

This is a performance not to be missed.