Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, with its long silences, repetitive dialogue, and the mere fact that most of the audience roughly know the plot of Hamlet, has the potential to be stilted, difficult, and obscure. But the Armchair Theatre Company managed to transform Stoppard’s difficult text into an entertaining and thought-provoking experience.
Particular credit must be given to the outstanding quality of acting. The two leading actors, Cassian Bilton and Ieuan Perkins, deserve particular praise; their mountainous task of guiding the audience through an emotional and philosophical journey was achieved whilst still creating convincing characters. Praise must also be awarded to the wonderful Chloe Wall, who delivered her lines with great eloquence and charisma, depicting all too well the persona of a professional tragedian. Special acclaim finally goes to Will Spence, whose portrayal of Alfred produced probably the most laughter in the audience, and balanced the poignant intensity of the tragicomedy with a sense of ridiculousness. The acting style generally parodied the over-emphasised style of Shakespearian tragedians, comically caricaturing the source material.
I was impressed as well by the direction and the general mise en scène. A clever use of lighting near the end produced an utterly chilling effect, and the trick with the boxes still has me puzzled. The décor was quite minimalistic, consisting principally of a few wooden boxed and curtains, as well as the odd parasol and deckchair. The set was decorated in yellow, in keeping with a particular line uttered with regard to that colour, lending coherence to the piece as a whole.
Despite these strengths, the play is not without flaw. Certain drops in rhythm near the middle of the performance – even in a play permeated with so many pauses and recurring dialogues – stilted an otherwise dynamic production. Quite a few of the puns and comic repetitions lost their effect on me, which seemed to be a fault in the delivery of the lines as opposed to a lack of humour in the script.
While I don’t think one should expect to feel an overwhelming surge of emotion, or a genuine experience of existential angst, the interesting set-up, clever writing and talented performances definitely make it a worthwhile watch.