Auckland Theatre Company's revival of the show that captured the swinging spirit of the 1960s highlights UK playwright Tom Stoppard's brilliant sense of theatricality.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead flips the script on Shakespeare's gloomy masterpiece Hamlet and offers tantalising glimpses of how it might appear to a pair of bit part players who feel trapped in a world without meaning.
The play still resonates as a significant artefact of the Absurdist tradition but it also reminds us that many of the things which were outrageously rebellious in the 1960s are now almost banal. I
n the age of Reality TV, for example, it seems quaint to find so much angst expended on the idea that seemingly spontaneous actions might actually be scripted moments controlled by an unseen, vaguely sinister entity.
The pair in the title roles do a good job of handling Stoppard's dazzling wit and erudite philosophical musings. Tom Clarke's Rosencrantz is comically perplexed with random mood swings taking us from screeching intensity to moments of flippant irony while Freya Finch's Guildenstern brings clarity to the existential speculations.
Director Benjamin Henson choreographs some spectacular theatrical moments especially as the high drama from the court at Elsinore crashes into the mundane world where Rosencrantz & Guildenstern forlornly wait in the wings.
The mood of sordid decadence seemed a little over-cooked and with the show closing in on three hours (including interval) there was probably too much repetitive backstage action.
Ironically the drama really comes alive when Shakespeare's main characters strut their stuff. Rima Te Wiata is terrific as the quirky leader of a seedy troupe of travelling players. She movingly expresses the despair of performing without an audience and delivers a best-ever stage death as she chokes and quivers with a knife in her throat.
Joe Witkowski was in danger of stealing the show with his wildly melodramatic intrusions as Hamlet and it was hard not to wish for more stage time for the superb actors who had to make do with tiny fragments.
What: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead
Where & When: ASB Waterfront Theatre to Thursday, September 26
Reviewer: Paul Simei-Barton