The random witterings of Jonathan Morris, writer.

Thursday, 30 June 2011

Bound In A Nutshell

Last night went to see Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead at the Haymarket theatre. What follows is almost a review.

In terms of a production, I couldn’t really fault it. The two lead actors were terrific – I’d seen Jamie Parker in the Henry IVs at the Globe last year, he's going to either become a massively famous film star or play a detective on ITV. All the characters from Hamlet were also excellent and sparkly. The only character I wasn’t totally convinced by was the guy playing The Player; I think the part has a bit more pathos and humour to be found in it, and I found he overplayed some lines in expectation of a laugh, directing them out at the audience rather than addressing the other characters. The staging, lighting and costume were also magnificent.

My favourite thing about it, I’d say, were the scenes were the characters from Hamlet appeared or disappeared, which had a wonderful, sinister, dreamlike quality, like the Queen of Hearts' appearances in Alice In Wonderland.

In terms of the play itself, though, I found it easy to admire but less easy to enjoy. If one wanted to be cruel one could dismiss it as Beckett fan-fiction, its debt to Waiting For Godot is so blatant. But I don’t think Stoppard managed to capture the same rhythms of speech; I think some of his transitions were abrupt, his dialogue clunky, and it would help if the actors didn’t have to stick to a script so rigidly, because I think the dialogue is supposed to sound naturalistic, which requires a degree of flexibility in the performance. I also found some of the ‘clowning’ dreadfully weak. What I did like about it was the great sense of claustrophobia and paranoia, of the characters' discovery that they are fictional entities with no life, no destiny beyond that which has been ascribed to them. I think a lot more could have been made of that.

What marks it out as an early work is that pretty much the whole play, every line, from beginning to end, is asking the same question. The same question being, ‘Did you see what I did there?’ I’d say it’s one of the traps first-time writers fall into, along with naming characters after their mates and listing their favourite pop groups; showing off their learning, trying too hard to be clever-clever, trying to create ‘literature’. I mean, I admire it for going for the ‘Did you see what I did there?’ so boldly, so utterly and uncompromisingly – if you’re going to do it, go for it hook-line-and-sinker – but it comes across as a play written so that it can be studied at A-level. So you have ‘jokes’ about the characters pointing out the plot holes in Hamlet, which is fun but actually pretty cheap and easy; I have made many of the same jokes myself. I mean, Ophelia’s death is just ludicrously camp, isn’t it? And so, in trying to show us how well-read he is, the writer ends up showing us he has nothing original to say. Aah.

Plus he gives way the twist ending in the title. Fool.