by Lynn on March 13, 2024

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at the CAA Theatre, Toronto, Ont. David Mirvish presents the Neptune Theatre production. Plays until April 6, 2024.

Written by Tom Stoppard

Directed by Jeremy Webb

Set by Andrew Cull

Costumes by Kaelen MacDonald

Lighting by Leigh Ann Vardy

Sound design and composition, Deanna H. Choi

Cast: Mallory Amirault

Helen Belay

Michael Blake

Walter Borden

Billy Boyd

Drew Douris-O-Hara

Raquel Duffy

Pasha Ebrahimi

Jonathan Ellul

Santiago Guzman

Dominic Monoghan

Jacob Sampson

Erin Tancock

A play about identity, fitting in, being aware, beautifully acted and directed. Tom Stoppard at his imaginative, creative, impish best, (until he topped himself with the next play).

The Story. In Shakespeare’s Hamlet Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are two minor characters who are there for comic relief mainly because no one can tell them apart. They aren’t twins. They are merely indistinguishable as personalities. They are there also to act as a means of accompanying Hamlet to English on behalf of Claudius, to be presented to the British court. They bear a letter for the court which then requests that Hamlet be killed. When Hamlet finds out he secretly takes the letter and replaces it with his own ordering the deaths of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern instead.

In Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard, the mistaken identity is played up even further, with Stoppard having both Rosencrantz and Guildenstern questioning their own identity, in which they are not sure which of them is which. This being Stoppard there are liberal sprinklings of philosophy, history, language, linguistics, psychology, musings on chance, coincidence, lashings of Waiting for Godot and a backdrop of Shakespeare’s Hamlet for context.

The Production. At the beginning of the production, Rosencrantz (Dominic Monaghan) and Guildenstern (Billy Boyd) are playing a game of flipping a coin and seeing how many “heads” Rosencrantz can score and how many” tails” Guildenstern can score. The person who calls and gets ‘heads’ keeps the coin. So far Rosencrantz has about 92 ‘heads’ (and coins in his pouch) and Guildenstern has none. This gives Guildenstern the occasion to muse on chance, coincidence philosophy and all manner of minutiae as he waits to score ‘tails’.

As Guildenstern, Billy Boyd never seems surprised or frustrated by the constant revelation that it’s ‘heads.’ Rather, he is patient, composed and willing to flip again. At the same time, Rosencrantz, an equally calm, but not as philosophical as his partner, just keeps calling ‘heads’, and putting the coin in his pouch. As played by Dominic Monoghan Rosencrantz is not emotionally involved. It seems an inevitability he would have 92 ‘heads.’

As both Rosencrantz and Guildenstern play the game, muse, philosophize and flip the coins, I got the sense of Beckett’s Waiting for Godot Vladimir and Estragon musing, philosophizing and talking to pass the time as they waited for Godot to arrive. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern talk to pass the time as they wait for a ‘tails.’

Director, Jeremy Webb has created a bracing, lively, nuanced production in which the dense philosophical questions float in the air and don’t bog down the proceedings. Kaelen MacDonald has designed Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s costumes with wit. Rosencrantz has a full ruff around his neck and wears a blue suit/costume with a dark green vest and Guildenstern wears a ruff that is open at the neck and a dark green suit/costume that is a bit different from his partner,  with a dark blue vest. Clever.

Andrew Cull’s set of two large moveable bleachers keeps the swirl of activity going. At times Rosencrantz and Guildenstern sit on the bleachers while the rest of the characters move them around. They are of the action but apart from it.

Both Dominic Monoghan as Rosencrantz and Billy Boyd as a Guildenstern are wonderful. They bounce the lively dialogue off each other like ping-pong champs. Much has been made of their great friendship off stage as a reason for their wonderful rapport. I think it’s more fundamental than that—they are fine actors. Monoghan illuminate an innocence of Rosencrantz. He is in a heady world and has no clue about it. He looks around as if he is lost, but sweet about it. Guildenstern is the philosopher and Billy Boyd plays him with care and attention to the thoughts as the dialogue winds and winds around the idea of it always being heads with nary a tails in sight. Both characters engage with innocent curiosity with the world-weary players, headed by a confident Michael Blake as The Player. The players play rings around the two innocents. The humour in Stoppard’ script dances, it’s in such good hands.  

Comment. This production of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead is lively, funny, deeply thought and worth a visit to the CAA to see it.

David Mirvish presents the Neptune Theatre’s Production:

Plays until April 6, 2024.

Running Time: 2 hours, 50 minutes (2 intermissions)

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