Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead

As mainstream theatre goes, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead is slightly outside of the main drag. It’s a dense, wordy, absurdist comedy mirror to Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and the source of many an audition speech for would-be actors – but it’s a classic. So, opening night was largely seasoned theatre goers, based on my visual sample and the timing and volume of some of the laughs.

50 years after its debut, a new production lands in Auckland at the ASB Waterfront Theatre and Tom Stoppard’s classic play again challenges the cast and crew to clothe its sparse bones with elegant timing, a love of wordplay and some good ole fashioned slapstick!

From the start, Tom Clarke and Freya Finch hit their groove as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, or is it the other way around? Anyhow, Clarke especially has tapped into the comedic DNA of Michael Palin and The Goons (look them up youngsters) to tickle the audience with sometimes almost nothing but a shrug or harrumph as Rosencrantz. Finch provides a great foil and really sinks her teeth into the philosophical musings of Guildenstern, and the power trio of lead roles is ably completed by Rima Te Wiata as The Player.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead
Photo credit: Andi Crown Photography

The beats and emphasis of the play are the variables that provide the potential for any production make the play its own, and director Benjamin Henson has turned up the volume on some and with Tom Clarke has found a few new gags to boot. Joe Witowski as Hamlet and Andrew Eddey as Alfred also take delight in channelling Jerry Lewis’ physical comedy and both are quite brilliant.

As always, the actual production and set are the hardest elements for any company to tackle and sadly these are the pieces of the puzzle that don’t quite fit, not providing the actors with the shapes and movement to round out the show and complement the text. Though the use of sound is clever throughout.

Overall, the performances delight with Clarke and Finch leading the way, though Witkowski, Eddey and especially Lisa Chappell as Gertrude really grab their moments to shine and land the laughs. Pondering the nature of fate and death will bubble up in your head once you stop laughing through a great night in the company of one of the classics.

Reviewed by Mike Hales.

4 small stars

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead is on at the ASB Waterfront Theatre until 26th of September.