Friday, February 15, 2013

Review: (Toronto) Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead

Ted Dykstra and Jordan Pettle (photo credit: Cylla von Tiedemann)

Same As It Ever Was
by Shannon Christy

Soulpepper's production pf Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead is as quirky, witty, and sharp as the original production by Tom Stoppard which makes me wonder why I didn’t just watch the movie the playwright directed on Netflix instead. 

The good qualities consist of Dana Osborne’s stage design and the soundscape by Mike Ross. There is no fourth wall: the audience surrounds the performers. This allows the spectators to feel as if they are literally stumbling across two confused men questioning everything around them, while allowing the actors to interact naturally with the audience. (At one point, Guildenstern discusses the relevance of their conversation, as he steps down from the stage and used me as a live example of audience boredom to Rosencrantz. What a great tongue in cheek joke; using the actual text he was given to challenge a live audience member at the same time… I couldn’t stop laughing at the idea - especially knowing that all the while, he was probably trampling that poor shopping bag a careless spectator had left in the alley.) In addition, Mike Ross’s soundscape with its clever use of effects, and great transitions is effective in giving the piece direction and grabbing audience attention. Unfortunately this and the set are among the only provoking concepts in this production.  

As for the acting? It must be presumed that it is more difficult to work with a good script that is well known to the public than a crappy one that is not. The former is difficult to improve and the latter is open to interpretation. I assume this was the dilemma of this troupe because the only thing they brought to the production was the ability to deliver a joke. Ted Dykstra (Rosencrantz), Jordan Pettle (Guildenstern), and Kenneth Welsh (Player) put on an entertaining spectacle but when it is said and done it was just washed away like snow from the rain. 

Tom Stoppard meant for this to be a satire of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting For Godot set in Hamlet but that does not mean it should be treated as a sacred piece of text and never played with.  

If you have never seen this play and do not have access to Netflix then I highly recommend this production. Otherwise the only thing this production will show you is what happens when a thriving artistic company becomes the establishment and loses the ability to take one of the best plays produced in the last 50 years and play with it. 

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern will be at Soulpepper's Charles Baille Theatre until March 2. 

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