Guildenstern (Joshua McGuire) and Rosencrantz (Daniel Radcliffe),To mark the 50th Anniversary of Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, The Old Vic announced a production starring Joshua McGuire and Daniel Radcliffe as the titular characters, alongside David Haig.
Exploring the off stage existential crisis of two minor characters in Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’, Stoppard explores dark and powerful themes through witty and self referential humour. Whilst we know the outcome of our protagonists, they discuss at length what they suspect it may be, and in particular become fixated on the idea that perhaps they are unimportant and what may happen if they die.
I’ve been lucky enough to see Radcliffe in a couple of his previous stage endeavours and was pleasantly surprised by his performance in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead as his comic timing is spot on throughout the show, and his rapport with McGuire gives them both a charming innocence, as well as supporting the more sombre speeches the two must make. David Haig makes a stellar attempt to completely steal the show, and his performance as the Player is constantly hilarious and he delivers Stoppard’s excellent script with ease and style.
The stage is largely bare throughout the show, allowing the versatile actors to show off their talents. The layout of The Old Vic is such that there are simply no bad seats, and therefore even perched at the top I felt in amongst the story. If you know ‘Hamlet’ well then Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead is full of nods that will have you chuckling, and raising your eyebrows at the intense dramatic irony throughout. However, the overarching themes of friendship, confusion and a desperation to understand your purpose and goal in life are universal, even to anyone not familiar with Shakespeare’s work.
Isn’t pub theatre great? It’s been a couple of years and I should go more often. The intimacy of performance, the power of actors giving their all in such confined spaces and the feeling your presence really matters. This time it was to the Hen and Chickens in Islington for the Theatre of Heaven and Hell’s latest production, Dario Fo’s One Was Nude and One Wore Tails.
The character tantalisingly called ‘Naked Man’ in the programme is in fact to be found performing throughout and protecting his modesty from inside a large yellow council wheelie bin. An ambassador in temporarily (he hopes) reduced circumstances, a road sweeper finds him in his bin. He’s hiding there having been forced to make a hurried exit, naked save his gold watch and top hat, from his lover’s home on the return of her husband. Unable to return to his own wife without the tails he was wearing when he left, he enters into a both philosophical and practical discussion with the road sweeper, whose bin it is, about how he can both acquire some tails and get home.
The roadsweeper has in a previous discussion arrived at the view that because he is nothing and nothingness represents the beginning of existence, he is in fact God. In the end, after meeting a flower seller on a bike, it is the road sweeper who ends up wearing tails. He encounters a prostitute who now finds him strangley attractive. Because he looks like an ambassador he is treated like one. But by becoming something he has also ceased to be nothing.
The play explores actual and perceived status. The naked man demands others defer to his status as an ambassador, even as he sits naked in a rubbish bin. We already know he is morally compromised and, without his tails, he is doomed either to live in the bin or be exposed.
Darren Ruston, in his bin, gives a tremendously unconfined performance, barely keeping his temper in check as he realises the weakness of his new position. Nicholas Bright, as the road sweeper whose own status benefits from this, grows in confidence as the play goes on. At the same time he retains a sort of twinkly innocence which I find reminiscent of a young Michael Crawford (but then Charlie Stemp in Half a Sixpence had the same effect on me, so perhaps it’s just my age!). Brian Eastty plays a fellow road sweeper and also a patrolman with easy authority in both roles. Jake Francis is delightfully confused and phased by being asked to sell his tail coat to a naked man in a bin. And Elena Clements falls convincingly for the road sweeper turned ambassador.
One was Nude & One Wore Tails will be running at the Hen and Chickens Theatre until the 18th March. You can buy tickets here.