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27 November 2014
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October 2004
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead
Colin Burnie - In costume last time he played the role.
Colin Burnie - In costume last time he played the role at The Playhouse


Andrea MacDonald is the first of our reviewers to visit the O'Reilly Theatre and she was treated to a great little play.

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By Andrea MacDonald

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead - Stoppard's exploration of two minor characters from Hamlet - is in turns postmodern, absurd, witty, and tragic. This Coin Toss production performed at the intimate O'Reilly Theatre (Keble College) succeeds in presenting these opposing aspects within the play.

The rapport between the two leads is excellent, with quick fire dialogue and some inventive use of the stage. Sam Sampson's Rosencrantz is suitably gormless with Guildenstern's (Rick Merrick) frustration well-expressed with some exceptionally exasperated facial contortions. The actors both compliment and counterpoint each other, and complete some fabulous set pieces of physical comedy.

As the characters struggle to come to terms with the fact that are indeed characters, they make long, unnerving pauses… hanging around for someone to come on and relieve them of their Beckettian waiting. Often that relief comes from the Player and his band of tragedians. The Player (as excellently depicted by Colin Burnie) is a self-conscious acTOR. He fills the stage with luvvy vowels and melodramatic gestures and is an invigorating force. However other intrusions prove a little more disjunctive. The random costumes of the Elsinore characters and odd Goth Hamlet strike a peculiar chord in an otherwise well thought-out production. The lighting in particular is worthy of note - the changes in Act 2 replicate the "certain brownness at the edges of the day", and foreshadow the black turn the language takes with the saturation of gallows humour in Act 3.

This play is a masterpiece - poignant, searching, hysterical. As Guildenstern exclaims at one point: "Words, words. They're all we have to go on". Stoppard's exceptional script is in itself a lot to go on; this thoughtful production enriches and enlivens it for the present day.

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