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The Absurdity of Hamlet: Rosencratz and Guildenstern are Dead

By Anjida Sripongworakul

Monday 6 March 2017 Student journalists

This winter, Tom Stoppard's breakthrough play returns to stage at the Old Vic in its 50th anniversary production headlined by Daniel Radcliffe and directed by David Leveaux.

When it was first professionally performed at the Old Vic in 1967, Rosencratz and Guildenstern are Dead propelled Tom Stoppard to an overnight sensation. The play retells Shakespeare’s famed tragedy, Hamlet, from two minor characters’ point of view, putting a metatheatre spin on the original play-within-a-play.

With its title taken from Hamlet’s final scene, the play focuses on Hamlet’s old schoolmates—the titular Rosencratz (Daniel Radcliffe) and Guildenstern (Joshua McGuire), both used by the King to extract Hamlet’s real motives during the play. The original main characters are swept to the sidelines, appearing in mere cameos, as the audience gains a glimpse into the play through Rosencratz and Guildenstern’s conversations, based on their limited knowledge of the events unfolding in the main plotline.

Stoppard explores the absurdity in Hamlet through the duo’s existentialist, tragicomedy banter on on the play’s events, as they observe the effects of and are affected by Hamlet’s actions. The duo also reflect on the nature of art versus reality while suffering from an identity crisis, breaking the fourth wall by exclaiming, “We're actors — we're the opposite of people!” and “Audiences know what to expect, and that is all that they are prepared to believe in.”

The play, structured in three acts as Hamlet’s inverse, has been compared to Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot based on its similar storytelling through two characters.

The play marks Daniel Radcliffe’s first return to the London stage since his last appearance in 2013 for The Cripple of Inishmaan. The Harry Potter star had mentioned in 2014 his love for Tom Stoppard and his wish to star in one of Stoppard’s plays.

As a Harry Potter, Shakespeare, and Tom Stoppard fan, I eagerly await the chance to watch Radcliffe live on stage, acting out one of my favorite playwright’s iconic words, blending art, theatre, and life’s absurdities. This is a rare theatrical event in London, not to be missed.

The play is scheduled to run through 25 February through 29 April 2017, on Monday through Saturday evenings at 7.30pm and Wednesday and Saturday matinees at 2.30pm. Tickets start from £12 and the Old Vic is located at The Cut, London, SE1 8NB.


Anjida Sri

I'm a Management Science (Decision Science Stream) Master's candidate at London School of Economics and Political Science. Originally from Thailand, I'm as passionate about the science, psychology, and statistics behind decision making as I am about film and writing. I enjoy opportunities to combine my passions in reviewing, discussing, and analysing films. My major influences include the New Yorker's James Wood, classic Russian literature, and Richard Siken's poetry. I've written film reviews, celebrity profiles, and news and technology coverage for my undergraduate engineering newspaper, the University of Waterloo's Iron Warrior. I'm also a guest blogger and Student Blog Editor for LSE's Department of Management. I believe pop culture, current affairs, and critical, world-changing ideas are integral to student lifestyle, and I'm committed to representing students' reality outside the classroom to society and the world. I hope to continue investigating this theme through NUS' platform for student voices.