Review of 'Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead'


Focusing on two minor characters from Shakespeare's “Hamlet”, “Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead” weaves in and out of the narrative of Hamlet as we see the courtiers contemplating life and generally confused about what is happening in the life of their friend Hamlet (Luke Mullins). Guildenstern (Joshua McGuire) is the more intelligent of the two, though neither are likely to win a Nobel prize with Rosencrantz (Daniel Radcliffe) particularly prone to extended periods of stupidity. Early on they are joined by a company of actors specialising in both obscene performances and scenes involving death/dying (!) led by “The Player” (David Haig) who are looking for work which they eventually find with Hamlet as they are hired to perform a pastiche of Hamlet's life with a play about a man killing a husband to then marry the wife for political gain.

For those not overly familiar with the Shakespearean play, Hamlet is the nephew of Claudius (Wil Johnson) who has married Hamlet's mother, Gertrude (Marianne Oldham), after the death of his father. Hamlet is devastated at the loss of his father and suspects Claudius of his murder. The play focuses the struggles of Hamlet to come to terms with his situation and does not end well…

This is an absurdist comedy that often simply sees Rosencrantz and Guildenstern on the stage not doing much of anything and talking about even less with regularly odd conversation topics (. The play opens with the two flipping a coin as part of a bet with Rosencrantz continuing to win as he calls each flip as “heads”, emptying the pockets to the increasingly disconsolate Guildenstern. As the action ramps up the Hamlet story scoops them up on occasion then spits them out with their heads spinning and none the wiser for it, generally doing not much of anything in response. One point of the story is that they have very little influence on the events and what they do matters very little, which they regularly acknowledge - An ironic tragedy, to be sure.

As the play winds down, in act three things slow down and take a turn for the dark as the two are caught up in fate travelling to England accompanying Hamlet. Here the play slows down considerably as the end draws irrevocably near with Hamlet replacing the letter from Claudius calling for Hamlet's death with another that calls for the courtiers death instead. Despite reading this later letter the two are unable to stop the wheels of the play…A return of the entertainers and an attack by pirates conspire to seal their fate.

Radcliffe puts on an enjoyable performance as the incredibly dense Rosencrantz but the plum role here is for McGuire as Guidenstern who is the more active character of the two and more keen to figure out what is going on though, in the end, they both are resigned to their positions. Both are utterly convincing with what goes on around him far more unreal with the lines from the play of Hamlet being spoken to the point of incomprehension as the characters appear on the stage further also enforcing the incomprehension of the two main characters. A special mention to Haig as “The Player” who effectively reprises his role as “Inspector Grim” from “The Thin Blue Line” as he takes himself far more seriously than everyone else sees him and his incompetence.

The staging is simple with a continuous ribbon of white extending from the front of the stage to the very back then up onto the back wall. Occasional elements of staging are brought on subtly and walls are introduced by the actors using large railed curtains hanging from the ceiling that are pulled across the stage.

The night I attended we had an attentive, appreciative and, largely, young, packed, audience with Radcliffe likely bringing in many. The high profile from television and film of many of the other actors on the stage I am sure brought in even more.

“Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead” is not a deep insight into anything really, but a good lot of fun watching the antics of the two on the stage as they are caught up in events far greater than themselves. Great for fans of Shakespeare but likely enjoyable by anyone recognising the absurdity of the role of minor characters in a play - Turning the whole idea on it's head. Worth coming for the performances of Radcliffe, McGuire and Haig alone but good luck getting tickets to this sold out box office hit…or see it on video, you will not regret it!


Review Date: 2017-04-24

Old Vic

Location: London (England)

Address: The Cut, London SE1 8NB ENGLAND

Public Transport: TUBE Waterloo NRLOGO Waterloo

Telephone: +44 (0) 844 871 7628


The Old Vic is hidden away just to the south of Waterloo Station. An older style theatre with a tiny foyer which makes it quite crowded getting in and out of.


The classical interior of the smaller theatre has quite good acoustics with the 2nd balcony (the “Baylis Circle”) quite small and still providing a great view of the stage.

Mark's Bar - Baylis Circle

Art in the staircase