Theatre at the Movies – Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

Watching theatre at the movies is great fun, and I did just that on this Saturday past. I had a ticket for a really nice neighbourhood cinema, where I saw the 50th anniversary production of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are DeadNational Theatre Live films several plays per year, showing them in cinemas across the world while the show is still in the theatre (or as an encore performance a bit later). Next month there will be a broadcast of Salomé. With Yael Farber’s current play being part of this project, I am hopeful that when Oedipus to Antigone is staged in 2018, we may be able to see it “as if live” in the cinema!

I really loved Theatre of the Absurd as a teenager, so I’m not sure why I never read this work. It’s really funny! Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, by Tom Stoppard, is about two of the bit players in Hamlet. They spend the whole of Stoppard’s play waiting for something to happen and trying to understand why they have no control over events. They wait and talk and toss coins, becoming part of the real action only when Hamlet‘s key players come on for a few lines of dialogue, only to have them walk off again. These bit players are, in fact, so unimportant that they themselves can’t even remember which of them is Rosencrantz and which, Guildenstern! And of course the conclusion is in the title and known to everyone except the two lead characters.

Daniel Radcliffe (of Harry Potter fame) and Joshua McGuire give excellent performances in the lead roles, with perfect timing in the fast-paced banter. David Haig plays the leader of a troupe of actors on their way to perform at the castle and is very funny and bombastic. Here are the three of them talking about the play and their work together:

Don’t you think that Daniel Radcliffe with a beard looks a bit like a smaller version of Richard Armitage? My only complaint, really, was that the volume was not really loud enough in the cinema, so some of the actors (particularly the new king) were difficult to understand. Well, and I was really surprised that in this 500-seat cinema, there were only around 50 people! At least I was able to sit dead-centre and have a totally unobstructed view of the screen!

The broadcast begins with a tour of the Old Vic (for those of us who haven’t been there!), including the famous rehearsal room. Radcliffe and McGuire describe also how intimidating it was at first to be speaking Stoppard’s lines with the man himself in the room, watching the rehearsals! They also show us how the backstage area was opened up and the stage was extended into the audience, making these two small men seem even smaller on the large stage where very little happens. (Radcliffe is 5’5″ and McGuire is an inch shorter.)

The broadcast is done in such a way that the audience really feels as if they are at the play in the original theatre. There is even a 20-minute intermission, where the camera holds steady on the theatre audience coming and going amid the excited discussions about the production.

I’m really looking forward to Salomé next month. On June 22, it will be broadcast live from the Olivier Theatre in London to cinemas in the UK, and (because of the time zone difference) “as if live” to my local theatre.

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