Many talents contribute to the making of a fine play, and in ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD which opened to an enthusiastic full house at the Sydney Theatre Company last Saturday, those talents were clearly visible.
The production was seamless, Simon Phillips’s direction flawless, the set both perfectly functional and satisfyingly inventive, the sound effects appropriate and the lighting (and, at all the right moments, the total darkness) effective.
As for the actors, all the cast were excellent and gave consummate performances. The stand-out ones, because of their major roles, were Tim Minchin as Rosencrantz, Toby Schmitz as Guildenstern, and Ewen Leslie as the Player. The play is long (about two and a half hours), and one has to admire their ability to memorise so many lines. Because the play is, in effect, a “three-hander”, its success, or otherwise, rides squarely on their shoulders. It can be stated, without reservation, that each meets that challenge adeptly. Indeed, for a large part of the play, Schmitz and Minchin are on the stage alone yet, by their actions, voices and timing- they seem to fill it.
Nevertheless, none of the above is truly memorable unless the play itself is a good one. History tells us that Tom Stoppard’s play must be very good, as it has been performed innumerable times all over the world since its premiere in 1966. Certainly it is replete with one-liners, puns and wit, and these all drew much laughter. But it must be said that without a knowledge of HAMLET you would not have any idea about the storyline, and even with that knowledge there were long periods where you would be equally lost.
It is an existential play, outwardly hugely comic, and inwardly very sad. If you do not like this unique combination, then the fine exercise of all the aforesaid talents still won’t make watching this play a totally enjoyable experience. However if you do like that mix, then this production is truly great theatre.
This Sydney Theatre Company and Commonwealth Bank production of ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD, directed by Simon Phillips, opened at the Sydney Theatre, 22 Hickson Road, Walsh Bay on Saturday August 10 and is playing until Saturday September 14, 2013.