Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern at the Library Theatre

Last time I went to the Library Theatre I moaned about the institutional ambience, and the way it can affect one's enjoyment of a play. Last night I went again. Well, I don't know what's happened, but what a transformation!

We were there to see Chris Honer's production of Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guilderstern Are Dead. Press Night was inevitably going to be crowded for such a famous play, and there were actors I knew to gab to, but there was something more creating the sense of excitement which previously I'd been missing. Why did the air seem more charged with expectancy? Why did the foyer lights, and the lights in the bar, seem brighter? Was it warmer? Yes it was! I had worn an extra jumper in readiness, but I had to take it off! And when we ordered our pre-show and interval drinks, we were told that it would be cheaper to buy a bottle, which came with a dish of mixed spiced olives (and which they kept corked for us during Act 1), and someone came round offering us plastic cups so that we didn't have to gulp our unfinished drinks but could TAKE THEM INTO THE SHOW!

But I don't think it was just this convivial atmosphere which made me enjoy a play which I have seen twice before without any such enjoyment. I have always had the oddest feelings about R&G, and about Stoppard plays in general. Stoppard ought to be my hero, since I'm always being pulled up by theatre script readers for employing those very techniques for which Stoppard is lauded - non-naturalistic dialogue, long speeches in which characters engage with ideas - and I have complained elsewhere about the insistence on naturalism in contemporary theatre. But Stoppard's plays have always seemed to me to justify those naturalist objections, since they have always come over to me as cold metaphysical exercises.

But it wasn't like that last night. For the first time for me, Rosencrantz and Guildernstern, played by Leigh Symonds and Graeme Hawley, were utterly, comically and tragically human in their plight as pawns in a greater game they don't understand. Other productions I've seen have been consciously stark and modernistic, but this one, done more fittingly in Shakespearean dress, was rich in all ways: visually and choreographically and thus emotionally, as well as metaphysically, and I'm telling you, my mind has been changed about this play.

It's a hard thing for a writer to say, this, but you're nothing without a good director, in the end.
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