Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead

Court One, Christchurch

15/04/2006 - 27/05/2006

Production Details

By Tom Stoppard

The Court Theatre is undertakes one of the theatre’s most substantial artistic projects: the contemporaneous staging of Shakespeare’s masterpiece Hamlet and Tom Stoppard’s comedy Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead. These full-scale works alternate on the Court One stage over a 7 week season beginning Saturday 8 April.

The Court Theatre last staged these shows together in 1980, and is believed to be the only theatre company in New Zealand ever to have done so, despite the works appearing together regularly overseas. The Court Theatre’s Chief Executive Philip Aldridge, is excited by the undertaking.

“This is a classic pairing of two complimentary and invigoratingly contrasting plays. It is a colossal undertaking for the company, who must simultaneously rehearse and perform Shakespeare’s greatest tragedy with Stoppard’s comedic masterpiece. Fans of ‘Shakespeare in Love‘, Stoppard’s wildly witty film script, as well as all lovers of English literature, language and drama, will be greatly entertained.”

Premiered in 1966, Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead tells the story of Hamlet from a very unusual perspective. This story revolves around two Elizabethan courtiers who find themselves slap-bang in the middle of Shakespeare’s Hamlet without any knowledge of the script. The results are both absurd and undeniably entertaining.

For director Peter Evans, “Using the same cast and set,” says director Peter Evans,  “we let loose Court Theatre favourites Teodor Surcel and Anna McPhail to find their way through Hamlet and the big questions in this brilliant existential comedy.”

The Court Theatre’s Chief Executive Philip Aldridge concludes, “Whilst the stories of Hamlet and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead are inextricably linked, they are at opposite poles of the theatrical repertoire – one a tragedy, the other a comedy. The opposing moods of the two shows couldn’t be more diverse”. This promises a truly unique theatrical experience for everyone involved, whichever side of the curtain you’re on”.

DIRECTOR                                          Peter Evans
SET & COSTUME DESIGNER         Tony Geddes
COSTUME CO-DESIGNER               Pamela Jones
LIGHTING DESIGNER                     Chris O'Mahony

HAMLET                                             Gareth Reeves
ROSENCRANTZ                                 Teodor Surcel
GUILDENSTERN                               Anna McPhail
CLAUDIUS & GHOST                        Gavin Richards
GERTRUDE                                         Rima Te Wiata
POLONIUS & GRAVEDIGGER        Martin Howells
LAERTES / PLAYER                          Simon London
OPHELIA                                             Emmeline Hawthorne
HORATIO / PLAYER                         Matt Wilson
THE PLAYER                                      Carol Smith
MARCELLUS / OSRIC / ALFRED   Kristian Lavercombe
PRIEST / PLAYER                             Conan Mountain

PROPERTIES                           Nigel Kerr
STAGE MANAGER                  Annabel Butler
OPERATOR                               Loki Stanley
WARDROBE                              Pamela Jones 
                                                     Emily Thomas 
                                                     Alistair McDougal 
                                                     Deborah Ward
SET CONSTRUCTION            Nigel Kerr 
                                                     Maurice Kidd
                                                     Richard van den Berg 
                                                     Richard Daem 
                                                     Nicki Evans

Original music performed by

Voice                                       Ballantyne Haines
Renaissance Lute                   Dr Jonathan Le Cocq
Cornetto                                  Sarah Wilson
Violin                                      Lucienne Shelley
Recorders                                Hamish Oliver
Percussion                              Mark La Roche

Supplementary music
Beethoven       Sonata Op. 27 No. 2 ("Moonlight")
Dowland         The King of Denmark's Galiard
                        Mistresse Nichols Almand

Theatre ,

2hrs 10min , incl. interval

Witty, irreverent, surreal

Review by Stephen Austin 09th May 2006

The decision to stage both Hamlet and Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead together is always a brave one.  Both plays feed each other significantly when staged in a repertory fashion and have a lot to offer an audience.

Stoppard’s take on the two smallest players in court of Denmark is witty, irreverent, surreal and one of the greatest pieces of theatre written since, dare I say, its source material.  He draws heavily from other writers since Shakespeare as well for influence.  There are smatterings of Beckett’s existential boredom of Waiting for Godot, the breaking of the fourth wall ala the cinema of Brunel and Dali and banter that could have stepped straight out of Morecombe and Wise or Monty Python.

Performed on the same set, with the same actors, this production was less a direct approach to the previous production of Hamlet than "a sidelong glance" at the events surrounding the unravelling of the Prince of Denmark through the eyes of the two Attendant Lords.  This approach led to some moments that threw into question the nature of the reality of the first play and added some depth to both productions.

Teodor Surcel and Anna McPhail were as complementary a pair as you would wish as the titular duo.  He seemed the "straight man" with an inquisitive nature, she the one with all the answers.  Each had their own personality, but in the confusion over names and roles within the court their personalities began to meld over the course of the play, neatly summed up in Pamela Jones costume design for them that saw them each wearing half of their costume from the previous play.  The Godot-styled boots were a nice touch too.

Both actors seemed to have their own obstacles that they needed to overcome in this production however.  Surcel’s lovely Transylvanian accent was a little unclear when he was forced to play dialogue upstage, so seemed to be trying as hard as possible to be heard; not always with the best vocal results.  McPhail seemed at times rather awkward in her posture and this resulted in a heavily articulated delivery of lines, rather than the crazed bored rambling I would have expected from the character.

Carol Smith as The Player, who had simply nothing to do and seemed out of place in Hamlet, shone here.  She tackled the verbose morally-ambiguous dialogue with glee and passion.  The fact that she made herself so peripheral in Hamlet, only to fully realise this brilliantly written character so well is a credit to her ability as an actress.  She was very well supported by her band of travelling players (Simon London, Matthew Wilson, Kristian Lavercombe and Conan Mountain) who presented just the right level of believability while still enjoying the ‘coarse’ elements of their roles.

Tony Geddes’ drab dressing room set for both plays, with all of its backstage asymmetry, used the Court space to the full and gave the actors plenty of scope to explore.  The simple use of colourfully shabby curtains on tracks and hidden false doors created an efficiently simple sense of place and illusion.

It is clear from this viewing that Rosencrantz & Guildenstern was the favoured of the two plays in the director’s mind for this season, as more of the production of the two plays was directed with the latter in mind. 

(See also Stephen Austin’s review of Hamlet.)


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