Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead

James Burton gets lost in a world where nothing seems to happen

Pembroke New Cellars- 7.30pm Tues 24th-Sat 28th November – 3/5

It's 7.30 in Pembroke New Cellars, the lights go up, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are sitting on two wooden boxes tossing coins. As the audience settle into their seats, and the characters land a succession of heads, Guildenstern muses that ‘there is an art to the building up of suspense, although it can be done by luck alone.'

Thankfully, in this case we do not have to rely on luck. Peter Skidmore's Rosencrantz is suitably bewildered, and when Harry Baker's Guildenstern rages against the pair's inability to understand, or even to act independently, his irritation certainly feels genuine. Lawrence Dunn plays up the creepy intensity of his role as the leader of the theatrical troupe putting on the play within the play, and all the supporting characters – Claudius, Gertrude, Hamlet and the rest – do exactly what is required of them, making the two main characters and the audience feel completely overwhelmed by the huge events around them.

The production may be a little rough around the edges – Baker's pacing across the stage occasionally looks a little forced, like he's doing it because he feels he needs to add movement somehow to the more dialogue-heavy scenes – for Freshers making their debut appearances on a Cambridge stage, it is an undeniably good effort.

There are some nice touches to the direction too. I particularly liked the rehearsal scene, when Rosencrantz's momentary recognition of himself in the actor playing a friend of the king's nephew is highlighted by the fact they are wearing the same scarf.

Given this talent, I'm just left wondering why the directors chose to put on a play in which absolutely nothing happens. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead is ultimately a one-punch plot. Yes, the characters realise, as the programme suggests, that they are only minor characters in someone else's story, and yes, everything is Absurd with a capital A, but this doesn't stop the whole thing from being intensely annoying.

Maybe I'm just not expansive and modern enough in my outlook, but is it really too much to ask for a little bit of plot in two hours of stage-time? Just the merest smidgeon? In all fairness, I don't think the infuriation I felt stems from bad acting so much as the fact I really don't get on with Stoppard's work.

Overall, the Pembroke Player's put on a good production. I just wish they'd performed a better play.

James Burton

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