The pan­ick­ing spies in Stop­pard’s spot­light

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - THEATRE JOHN NATHAN Rosen­crantz & Guilden­stern Are Dead

The Old Vic

IT’S A happy — or should that be tragic? — co­in­ci­dence that as this 50th an­niver­sary pro­duc­tion of Tom Stop­pard’s break­through play opens on the stage where it was first seen (apart from an ear­lier try­out in Ed­in­burgh), Hamlet, the work that in­spired it, is en­joy­ing an equally im­pres­sive re­vival at the Almeida.

You could do worse than visit the Almeida be­fore The Old Vic. Be­cause the bet­ter you know Hamlet, the more you will get out of Rosen­crantz (played here by Daniel Radcliffe) and Guilden­stern (Joshua McGuire) Are Dead.

For ex­am­ple, there’s a thrill to be had on the end­lessly riff­ing fun Stop­pard has mis­ap­pro­pri­at­ing the names, just as Claudius does. Though like all great plays, Stop­pard’s has its very own logic. For Shake­speare, Stop­pard’s he­roes were merely bit part char­ac­ters — the pat­sies whose job it is to spy on Hamlet and who are dis­patched to Eng­land as part of a con­spir­acy to kill the prince but in­stead end up be­ing ex­e­cuted them­selves. And in Stop­pard’s play it’s this pre­mo­ni­tion of early death that haunts the duo while scenes from Shake­speare’s play flit in and out of the ac­tion from the wings.

With a beard that is the most no­tice­able fea­ture on his some­what pal­lid face, Radcliffe’s well-judged Rosen­crantz em­bod­ies sup­pressed panic as he re­alises there is noth­ing to be done to di­vert his fate. Mean­while, McGuire’s anx­i­ety is ex­pressed in ex­plo­sions of thrillingly ar­tic­u­late ver­bosity. They make per­fect, op­po­site foils for each other.

Of course, if Stop­pard had been in­spired by the Almeida’s pro­duc­tion of Hamlet, with a fe­male Guilden­stern who, it is heav­ily im­plied, has a ro­man­tic past with Hamlet, one won­ders how that might have played out in his play. But it is chal­leng­ing enough to keep track of this angst-rid­den ex­is­ten­tial me­di­a­tion, with­out play­ing around with gen­der swaps.

The real rev­e­la­tion in David Le­veaux’s pro­duc­tion, other than the feather-light wit

Daniel Radcliffe (Rosen­crantz) and Joshua McGuire (Guilden­stern) with which Stop­pard grap­ples with pro­foundly weighty themes, is David Haig as The Player. This the char­ac­ter who in Hamlet per­forms the dumb show that ac­cuses the prince’s un­cle of mur­der. Here we see him be­fore and af­ter that piv­otal scene. And Haig’s ver­sion is an end­lessly en­ter­tain­ing thes­pian — part pa­gan, part shaman and all show­biz. This is an ac­tor who knows ev­ery­thing there is to know about the thing that Rosen­crantz and Guilden­stern fear most — dy­ing on stage and off.

PHOTO: MANUEL HARLAN

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