Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead Review

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Two of the minor characters from Hamlet, the Bard's most confusing tragedy, are shoved centre stage. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are harmless buffoons trying to figure out what exactly is going on.


The witty stage conceit that first made Tom Stoppard's name in 1968, now adapted by the playwright for his directorial debut, focuses on the two self-serving characters Shakespeare originated as sub-plot second bananas in Hamlet.

Stoppard's fwightfully clever mix of farce and philosophical game playing borrows bits of Hamlet for the plot frame, then sets Rosencrantz (Oldman) and Guildenstern (Roth) - although one of the running gags is that no one, including them, is ever sure which is which - to bumbling their puzzled way through the dark doings at Elsinore.

Stoppard has here tossed the trimmed text with good visual jokes and some dazzling illusions, most notably for a splendid Richard Dreyfuss, lighting up the screen as the mysterious, oracular leader of the players Hamlet engages to "catch the conscience of a king".

And one of the most inspired cinematic tricks presents a play within-a-play-within-a-play as The Player stages a puppet show that becomes a mime show that becomes Act x Scene x of Hamlet in a mesmerising progression.

Despite such a handsome and confident treatment, there's simply so much speculative yakking packed in that one is ultimately hard pressed to maintain the alertness required to make heads or tails out of it all.

There are, though, plenty of fun moments and sly performances (Ian Richardson's Polonius, Iain Glen's Hamlet, who at one delicious point is seen out of earshot but clearly spouting "To be or not to be.") to enjoy. A House of Fun for the art house.

Witty and just plain fun performances from the leads and minor characters alike, this must be watched with your brain turned on full if you are to have a chance of figuring out what the hell's going on.