Hamlet spin-off turns out to be more ‘Joey’ than ‘Frasier’

Our reviewer wonders whether they ought ‘to be or not to be’ somewhere else…

DUCT’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

Two Stars

The thing I hate most about student drama is the ‘classic productions’. Those 20 or so, non-Shakespeare plays which every amateur dramatist has on their list of ‘plays to do’. Classics like Waiting For Godot and The History Boys.

These plays have been rehashed so many times at universities all over the country that one cannot go to Edinburgh in August without seeing about 4 of the same production. My hatred derives from the fact that these plays are so good. So good that every aspiring thesp hopes to do them at some point.

It is in this covetousness that there lies the real tragedy; it occurs when a theatre company attempts one of this select group of plays and not only fucks it up for the actors who work so hard to put it on or the audience that paid to go see it, but also for anyone else that had or would have designs on doing the play at any point for the next three years.

DUCT’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead is one such example.

Stoppard’s meta-retelling of Hamlet is in itself the pretentious director/producer’s wet dream; the existential script can easily sound like something deep and meaningful even when the production at hand isn’t. From the beginning this version felt like someone high on cocaine, aloofly lecturing a room full of people on some aspect of philosophy he clearly doesn’t know a thing about.

In part Stoppard’s words, and they are genius words, were being simply read out to a room full of underwhelmed observers; I could have achieved the same effect by downloading the PDF and having my 8 year old cousin read it to me.

‘one to watch’ Jenny Walser

The decision to have a male/female lead pairing, for me, was a mistake. Both the lead actors (the ever tremendous Hugh Train and surely this year’s ‘one to watch’ Jenny Walser) are clearly very talented, but they were so at odds with each other that they couldn’t descend into one, schizophrenic-esque entity that the play so requires.

The pace dropped in places, there was a lack of essential choreography between the two characters that gave me the sobering feeling that the play could have infinitely better coalesced if it had found the 10th week slot and given the cast more time to come together as a whole.

‘The decision to have a male/femal lead pairing was a mistake’

Production-wise the play was underwhelming, the stage was either attempted minimalism or an indictment of lack of funding for the arts. It is undoubtedly clear that DUCT has talent at its disposal both sides of the curtain, Tyler Rainford’s player was a stunning example of both character depth and slapstick comedy, and Dom Williams’ direction made at least an attempt at bringing together the complex themes of the play.

No amount of talent, however, could cover the fact that as the evening progressed it became apparent that, with such a well-known play, DUCT had bitten of more than they could chew. By the end all this faux-existential production had made me think about was how important choice of play is, I mean, as we’re so reliably told, ‘the play’s the thing’.

Tyler Rainford being ‘stunning’

Photos by Shreyas Murali