REVIEW: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead

Charmingly absurd.

Cambridge Theatre Hamlet Robinson rosencratz and guildenstern student theatre

Guildenstern and Rosencrantz are Dead: the existential comedy that interprets the classic Hamlet from the perspective of its two characters.

Three times throughout the play the two main characters switched actors. This was a bold decision by the director, presumably to highlight the recurring theme of Guildenstern and Rosencrantz questioning who they are. It was an interesting idea and may have worked better had not each pair had such different styles of acting and uneven talent.

[Credit: Johannes Hjorth]

The first actor to take on Rosencrantz (Rebecca Metzer) pulled it off mostly through a permanent gormlessness in her eyes as to be seen in the comic relief of Disney films which took a bit of maturity out of the production. This might have just been viewed as another interpretation of the character, albeit at a push, were not the other two performances done so differently.

The second performance (Beatriz Santos) performed a character of comical nervousness who at this point in the play was also much more talkative so that it seemed the character had changed altogether. The third actor to take on Rosencrantz (Grace England) performed with considerably some more charisma. However, perhaps consistency would have made all the difference.

[Credit: Johannes Hjorth]

The Guildensterns too were performed differently though the differences seemed more in the ability of the actors more than the character himself with the first (Tom Sparkes) using quite a limited variety of expressions and sometimes awkward gestures. The second (Phoebe Segal) went for very limited and simple expressions with a sweet voice that didn’t quite seem in keeping with the character while the acting of the third (George Booth-Clibborn) was almost faultless.

The idea of switching characters was certainly interesting but because of the disparity of talent and style it would have been wiser to have the best actors of the six constant throughout the play. The directorial decision caused unnecessary confusion.

[Credit: Johannes Hjorth]

The dialogue was so strong that it was able to get quite a few laughs from the audience even when lines were not pulled off that greatly. Some lines were quite long-winded so really did require a charismatic actor to keep the audience hooked, which was often lacking. In fact some of the performances of fairly minor roles were much more spirited and engaging than some of those by the main characters. Hamlet (Danny Baalbaki) was a quiet character and while this may have been just another interpretation of his madness, it was hardly a compelling performance.

Weaknesses of the play may have been less noticeable with some more visual pleasure in the set. As it happened, much of the play involved watching Guildenstern and Rosencrantz stand around talking which would have been no issue at all if the dialogue had been handled a little more carefully.

[Credit: Johannes Hjorth]

It is undeniably a brilliantly written play and the dialogue did, to an extent, prop up what was lacking in the performance.

However, this wasn’t always executed particularly skilfully and in this Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead is really hit and miss.