Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead
Posted on 2008/07/22 17:10:14 (July 2008).
[Thursday 17th July]
Last month we'd been to see a musical (see here) starring a friend of mine from work who is also a part-time actor. He'd recently told us that he was going to be in another production this week, and as I'd really rather enjoyed it last time round, I was keen to go along and see him tread the boards again.
So I took Chie along, as well as a couple of other people from work, and given that it was in the same venue as before (The Bridwell Theatre), we once again stopped off en route at the nearby Blackfriars pub for a quick pre-theatre dinner and a pint. Which was a jolly nice start to the evening.
So on to the play itself. Well, I have to be honest really, and say I just couldn't get on with it. There was nothing wrong with the performance in itself - the actors (my friend from work included) were all clearly very talented, but they were just working with such an appalling script.
I suppose it is only fair to qualify my somewhat negative reaction to the piece with the fact that my hernia was playing up a bit, and the seats were quite uncomfortable, so I was somewhat fidgety throughout, making me not really at my most attentive and receptive.
Somehow I had thought this play was supposed to be a comedy, but if that was the writer's intention he had certainly spread the laughs pretty thin indeed. I believe others have referred to it as an "absurdist existentialist tragicomedy".
The use of "aburdist" here appears to be an indirect way of referring to the fact that most of the dialogue is entirely meaningless gibberish - honestly, it can't have just been me. Whilst I'm prepared to admit that my somewhat uncultured background would mean a number of the references probably went over my head, a large part of the narrative (if I can be generous enough to call it that) could not have been anything but utterly irrelevant nonsense. Padding, if you will - which was distinctly unnecessary in a play that was already far too long by my reckoning. Consider for example the exchange where Rosencrantz and Guildford are charged with going to find Hamlet, and are deciding how to go about their search. There are several minutes of "you go that way, I'll go this way, no I'll go that way, no let's stick together, no let's just wait here, etc...". It is just thoroughly tedious. Surely absurdism is about non-sequiturs and taking the audience completely off guard. This was exactly the opposite of a non-sequitur, it was just an entirely predictable and formulaic exchange, with no intellectual or novel quality to it whatsoever.
The "existentialist" part presumably referred to the fact that amongst the main character's typically aimless musings they would occasionally say something which purported to be philosophical - i.e. they'd go on about death for a bit. I cannot say I was particularly inspired.
And as for the "tragicomedy" element, this derives from the fact that the whole thing was sort of based on (or perhaps in) Hamlet - the final nail in the coffin which made absolutely sure I was guaranteed not to like it.
I suppose the basic premise had the potential for some sort of merit - for those such as myself who are joyously unencumbered with any knowledge of Shakespeare, apparently Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are two minor characters in Hamlet, and this play is an attempt to fill in the gaps for what is happening to them while they're off stage, along with some pithy observation about the fatalism associated with insignificant pawns like this pair in theatre. However, it then proceeded to shoot itself in the foot in this regard, by making these characters quite unappealing, with personalities that were deliberately overlapping and generally quite vacant. The main characters in the play are generally chosen as the main characters because they are the most interesting. If you take some less significant characters and expand their background to reveal something noteworthy, that probably represents something worthwhile. However, to take these less significant characters and then spend the whole play apparently reinforcing the fact that they are thoroughly uninteresting and meaningless leaves me wondering what exactly has been achieved.
I just fundamentally couldn't get the point. I can happily sit through a film or play with no distinctive narrative if it is just plain funny or some interesting dialogue, or even just some aesthetic quality, but this play really didn't posses any of those things.
One of the slightly ironic things is that a number of the lines in the play appeared to be mocking the play itself, apparently voicing my own opinions as to how bad it was. For example:
"We are tied to a language which makes up for in obscurity what it lacks in style."
At which point I had to prevent myself from standing up and shouting "Yes you bloody well are!" ...and...
"I don't pretend to have understood. Frankly, I'm not very
...which had me nodding in full agreement. It was almost as if Tom Stoppard had written the entire play as a practical joke on the audience, to see if people would actually have the courage to stand up and denounce the whole thing as bollocks.
No matter how hard I tried to be patient I just couldn't really face sitting through ti. It was a three act play, and by the end of the first act I was already having thoughts of leaving. By the second interval I had made up my mind. Chie wasn't particularly bothered about hanging around either, given that most of the lanugage in it was nigh-on intelligible.
We decided to walk back home, and had a lovely summer's evening stroll along the Thames.
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