YOU’D BE DEAD WRONG TO MISS THIS DAZ­ZLER

Calgary Herald - - YOU - LOUIS B. HOB­SON

Rosen­crantz and Guilden­stern Are Dead es­tab­lished Tom Stop­pard as one of the most in­ven­tive, dar­ing and daz­zling the­atri­cal voices of the 20th cen­tury.

R & G Are Dead be­gan life as a fringe play for the Ed­in­burgh Fringe Fes­ti­val in 1966. It was the talk of the fes­ti­val and when it was pro­duced the fol­low­ing year at the Old Vic Theatre in Lon­don, it made Stop­pard an overnight sen­sa­tion. Here we are 51 years later and Al­berta Theatre Projects is pre­sent­ing The Shake­speare Com­pany and Hit & Myth Pro­duc­tions’ stag­ing of Stop­pard’s mind-bog­gling dis­sec­tion of, among other things, Shake­speare’s Ham­let, the ab­sur­dity of chance and fate, the in­evitabil­ity of death and the con­flict be­tween art and re­al­ity.

In the wrong hands, R & G Are Dead could be pretty heady, in­tim­i­dat­ing, de­press­ing stuff but this R & G is in the right­est of right hands from its de­sign­ers and di­rec­tor to its killer cast.

Rosen­crantz and Guilden­stern are two mi­nor char­ac­ters in Ham­let. They are univer­sity friends of the trou­bled prince and are sum­moned by Ham­let’s un­cle, the new king, to spy on Ham­let and dis­cover why he is so out-of-sorts. They keep get­ting in­struc­tions from the king only to be left to their own be­fud­dled de­vices.

In Stop­pard’s play, the ac­tion of Shake­speare’s play, for the most part, takes place off­stage ex­cept for those scenes from Ham­let in which Rosen­crantz and Guilden­stern ap­pear. Then, the Ham­let char­ac­ters rush on stage con­found­ing and con­fus­ing poor Rosen­crantz and Guilden­stern even more.

The two hap­less friends also get to meet a trav­el­ling band of play­ers who are on their way to per­form at Elsi­nore Cas­tle and who will even­tu­ally con­spire with Ham­let to trap his un­cle into ad­mit­ting he killed Ham­let’s

father to get both the crown and Ham­let’s mother.

Julie Or­ton as Guilden­stern, the more as­tute of the duo, is far more con­cerned about the lack of in­for­ma­tion and con­trol she and Rosen­crantz (Myla South­ward) have over their lives. South­ward’s Rosen­crantz seems to ac­cept things as in­evitable, so she’s will­ing to go along with the be­fud­dling events thrust upon them.

Both Or­ton and South­ward are as skilled at phys­i­cal com­edy as they are at mas­ter­ing the ver­bal gym­nas­tics of Stop­pard’s lan­guage. They are won­der­ful Ev­ery­man clowns, but the bril­liance of their per­for­mances is that, as the even­ing pro­gresses and pathos re­places com­edy, they be­come gen­uinely sym­pa­thetic char­ac­ters.

The fi­nal scenes on the boat to Eng­land in Act 2 have some gen­uinely heart­felt mo­ments and we right­fully mourn their deaths as does the am­bas­sador from Eng­land who an­nounces they are dead.

The cast­ing of Or­ton and South­ward by The Shake­speare Com­pany’s artis­tic di­rec­tor Haysam Kadri is in­deed a coup, which ex­tends to the cast­ing of the trav­el­ling play­ers who also play the court char­ac­ters from Ham­let.

Mark Bel­lamy, Natascha Gir­gis, Daniel Fong, Braden Grif­fiths, Natasha Strickey, Te­naj Wil­liams and Robert Klein are among Cal­gary’s finest ac­tors and they have great fun switch­ing from rib­ald troubadours to the court of Elsi­nore. They know just how far to take their an­tics in both worlds. Less would have made the Ham­let scenes dull and much more would have made the play­ers’ scenes too ram­bunc­tious.

Wil­liams’ Ham­let is a tor­tured soul in­deed. He is the prince of melan­choly.

Lead­ing the troupe of vagabonds is Christo­pher Hunt’s Player King, the ag­ing thes­pian who is as wise as he is schem­ing and lech­er­ous. It’s a tour de force per­for­mance from an ac­tor who never ceases to amaze.

Di­rec­tor Gly­nis Leyshon has found the es­sen­tial bal­ance be­tween farce and com­edy and pathos and melo­drama and her dumb show and play­ers’ scenes are among the best I’ve seen for a R & G Are Dead pro­duc­tion. It is clear Leyshon not only knows Stop­pard’s play thor­oughly, but loves it, and she goes a long way to spread­ing that love beyond the foot­lights.

Hanne Loosen’s cos­tumes speak vol­umes about these char­ac­ters and the the­atri­cal and real worlds they in­habit and they live so well on Scott Reid’s set and un­der David Fraser’s light­ing. Al­li­son Lynch’s orig­i­nal mu­sic helps set and un­der­score the mood of the pro­ceed­ings with­out ever be­ing in­tru­sive.

Stop­pard’s R & G Are Dead presents al­most as many chal­lenges for its au­di­ences as it does for its de­sign­ers, di­rec­tor and cast. The word­play and philo­soph­i­cal mus­ings are fun, but also un­nerv­ing the more we re­al­ize just how much we can see of our­selves in Rosen­crantz and Guilden­stern.

R & G Are Dead has a lim­ited run in the Arts Com­mons Martha Co­hen Theatre un­til Oct. 21. I caught it at its first pre­view per­for­mance with an au­di­ence that had as much fun as the ac­tors them­selves. This is world-class theatre at its most ex­hil­a­rat­ing and it would be fool­ish to miss it.

BEN­JAMIN LAIRD

Ac­tors Julie Or­ton and Myla South­ward are in­spired choices by artis­tic di­rec­tor Haysam Kadri to play the leads in Al­berta Theatre Projects’ Rosen­crantz and Guilden­stern Are Dead, writes Louis B. Hob­son.

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