>ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD by Stages
>reviewed by adele tan
>date: 14 jan 2000
When confronted with absurdity that flies
in the face of modern existence, the response is invariably one of unease.
The state of absurdity is often funny and comical yet the senselessness
of it all creates a form of laughter with an undertow of discomfort and
frustration. Tom Stoppard's classic play foregrounds these sentiments
through the bewildered eyes of his unlikely protagonists, Rosencrantz
and Guildenstern, formerly literary minnows in Shakespeare's Hamlet. In
this re-created Shakespearean world, the probabilities of Chance and Fate
are tossed against each other (literally in the game of coin tossing).
The former is random and the latter predestined but both equally arbitrary
to humanity. There is a lack of definite statements but "it's all
questions" and rhetoric, prompting Rosencrantz's anguished cry, "Where's
it going to end?" Rosencrantz and Guildenstern epitomize individuals
who have lost their bearings and their capacity for autonomy and control.
Their identities are made confused and inconsequential by others and themselves,
as audiences attempt to distinguish between the two of them. The loss
of memory ("I can't remember" is refrained throughout) is the
loss of history, losing a sense of where they come from and concomitantly,
they are propelled into an uncertain future not entirely of their own
will and making. Even death is no point of certainty as it is shown as
capable of being cheated, staged and acted indefinitely. Stoppard's play
sets up the unremitting tension between comedy and tragedy robbed of any
quality of dignity....
Although created in 1967, Stoppard's play still resonates with a philosophical intensity and great verbal wit that still remains relevant to our present post-modern society. R and G's thematics deal with human conditions that can be applied across cultures. Seldom do local theatres want to attempt plays with ostensible philosophical slants and this play makes a break from the usual fare of social-issue based drama or the slew of experimental theatre that often collapse into a pastiche of clever concepts. For audiences familiar with the Hamlet text, there is still a discernible plot to follow without necessarily falling into the mould of a well-made play. There is an affinity and immediacy established between the two friends and the audience as we are thrown as they are into absurd and incomprehensible situations.
>>'The play was largely
held together by the strong leads as acting by the supporting cast remained
Credit must be given to STAGES for wanting not only to do Stoppard, but also to do it in a new way (although one suspects that the performance already rides largely upon Stoppard's fine craft of playwriting). Shifting it from the static stage to a fluid site-specific environmental mode, the new atmospherics contributed to a refreshing and novel experience of the play. We were taken on a literal journey to and away from Elsinore, starting from an obscure rocky breakwater at the coast to the walkways where we met the travelling player and his tragedians, and finally to the Singapore Maritime Showcase. Often the effect is symbolic, uncanny and ironic such as the instance when both characters start to debate on permanence of truths, consistency and direction in an open-air car park and they should appropriately stand in front of iron rollers with a NO PARKING sign. The Maritime Museum provided an excellent venue to stage the hunt for the elusive Hamlet with its maze-like matrix of stairs and passageways, the nautical design even authentically represented the final scenes on a ship. Perhaps its most creative use laid in the use of an internal globe-design theatrette for Hamlet's famous lines calling Denmark his prison, (which were appended to the original script) and the dynamics and dimensions of that place were fully exploited to compliment the workings of the script. Working with minimal set and sound design and making do with whatever was available, director Jonathan Lim's vision and design is very commendable. His flair shows up in his hilarious orchestration of the dumbshow, replete with the bawdy humour commensurate with that of Shakespeare's and the effective use of blocking and body movements. It helped that the player and tragedians have a vein for a deadpan sort of physical comedy. This was truly the lightest moment of the play, relieving the tedium of the constant moving around that broke the momentum of the play. It was the best reprieve of the three hour long play.
The play was largely held together by the strong leads as acting by the supporting cast remained uneven. Rosencrantz played by Jonathan Lim and Guildenstern played by Gui Wei Hsin (if I got it right!) were solidly fleshed out, especially that of Lim's who imbued Rosencrantz with a lovable ineffectuality and vulnerable anguish. One wished that Gui had more of it in his Guildenstern, who turned out with fewer shades of pathos and fragility. Gui's patrician tone of voice and confident register sometimes went against his favour. Many a time, this compromised on the pathos that was promised to have gone under the skin of absurd comedy. It could have been more shaken, moving and disturbing.
Other honourable mentions include Brendon Marc Fernandez, who played the player with much acerbic and wry aplomb in his poised delivery, and Emeric Lau who gave a veritable bumbling but sycophantic Polonius. On the other hand, the other supporting cast did less well. Andy Tan just did not have the stature of the great dark and brooding prince. He lacked the tragic grace and gravity of Hamlet and his stilted delivery of Shakespearean verse did not help. Ophelia was like a passing wallflower, Claudius was nondescript and Gertrude was anemic, missing the full-bodied sensual vitality and affection that drew Hamlet and Claudius to her in the first place. However, one problem shared by all is that of voice projection, which tended to fade away intermittently. This is the difficulty when having to watch the play in large open-air or voluminous spaces and it does make for an annoying situation.
Nevertheless, STAGES does deliver the goods and does justice to Stoppard's play whilst injecting their own creative juices, constructing a performance that they can truly call their own. One wonders if STAGES will do it for the third time but this time round have something new to say about Rosencrantz and Guildenstern or respond to, react to and deconstruct Stoppard's premises in the play, colliding them with their own antitheses.