Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (National Theatre Live) Review

Thanks to the masterminds behind National Theatre Live, anyone from outside of London, including myself was able to watch the 50th Anniversary production of Tom Stoppard’s philosophical comedy, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.

Essentially a ‘spin-off’ of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, sees Hamlet’s childhood friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern promoted from supporting characters in Shakespeare’s original, to the principal leads in Stoppard’s re-imagining. The play tells a story of how the duo initially got muddled up in Hamlet’s affairs, leading to their unfortunate deaths.

The 50th Anniversary production stars Joshua McGuire (About Time) as Guildenstern, David Haig (Four Weddings and a Funeral) as The Player and of course Daniel Radcliffe as Rosencrantz (If you do not know who he is, have you been living under a rock?). The casting is brilliant as aesthetically looking Radcliffe and McGuire both are men with a short stature – you’re probably thinking what a random observation to take from the performance – but it is not until the curtain call do you realise how apparent this is, which only hones in how out of their depth these two characters are.

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Daniel Radcliffe as Rosencrantz. Photo credit to Tristram Kenton for The Guardian

Radcliffe and McGuire make a compelling comic double act. They perfectly capture how oddly opposite, yet, similar these two characters are. Radcliffe’s endearing turn as Rosencrantz, which did get a few ‘awwws’ from the audience is matched by McGuire’s quick and sharp Guildenstern, as the two attempt to remain upbeat about the current oblique situation: their apparent identity crisis and bleak uncertain future.

One of the standout moments was the famous question game the duo play. It basically looked like a tennis game of questions, with the speed of which Radcliffe and McGuire were bouncing questions, rules, scores back and forth off each other was phenomenal, highlighting the cleverness of Stoppard’s original dialogue.

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Joshua McGuire as Guildenstern and David Haig as The Player. Photo credit to Tristram Kenton for The Guardian

David Haig takes on the role of The Player with the dramatic flair it needs, but does not fall into the trap of overplaying the character. His troupe of ‘actors’ are a silent, yet a captivating bunch of misfits, especially in their fraying clown costumes. The costume designers Anna Fleischle and Loren Elstein do a marvellous job at capturing the weird, but wonderful setting of Stoppard’s play, as Hamlet, played by Luke Mullins, puts on a pair of ‘cool’ sunglasses, being a particular memorable moment.

I personally think a comedy is best judged by the audiences laugh, and both in the live broadcast and cinema there was laughter all round, as the cast did a tremendous job at delivering Stoppard’s humour.

If you are in London, make sure to catch this production as it is something special. Speaking of special, Joshua McGuire deserves a special mention for his portrayal of Guildenstern.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead is currently playing at The Old Vic, with an extended run until 6th May.

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