Two men sit and wait, summoned to the Danish court for a special assignment: discover what is wrong with Hamlet. Stoppard's comic masterpiece follows these two as they negotiate their way around Elsinore and beyond, only to realize what little control they have over their fate.
Oliver Dennis, Tragedian
Leah Doz, Ophelia
Ted Dykstra, Rosencrantz
Diego Matamoros, Claudius
Nancy Palk, Gertrude
Jordan Pettle, Guildenstern
Gregory Prest, Hamlet
Peyson Rock, Tragedian
Paolo Santalucia, Alfred
William Webster, Polonius
Kenneth Welsh, Player
Daniel Williston, Tragedian
Tim Ziegler, Tragedian
Joseph Ziegler, Director
Dana Osborne, Set & Costume Designer
Kevin Lamotte, Lighting Designer
Mike Ross, Sound Designer & Composer
Nancy Dryden, Production Stage Manager
Janet Gregor, Assistant Stage Manager
Kelly McEvenue, Alexander Coach
John Stead, Fight Director
David Ben, Magic Consultant
By Paula Wing, Associate Artist
There are those who make things happen, those who watch things happen, and those who say, "What happened?"
If life were a play, most of us would be minor characters. Tom Stoppard's inspired idea in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead was to take two characters considered complete nonentities, bit players in Shakespeare's Hamlet, and give them starring roles. In an act of typical ingenuity, he set the action during Shakespeare's tragedy, but backstage, if you will. Apart from a few brief scenes in which the action of both flows together, when the characters are onstage in Stoppard's play, they are (or would be) offstage in Shakespeare's play. It has become a classic, however, because familiarity with Hamlet is not necessary in order to delight in this play. Its madcap combination of highbrow intellectual discussion, high spirits and cheap jokes is frankly irresistible.
Stoppard requires a pleasurable combination of attention and surrender from his audience. This, his breakthrough play, takes us on a roller coaster ride of misadventures and musings. The playwright is fond of saying that the more doors there are for the audience to open, the better the play. There's an almost giddy sense of freedom here as he flings open a gobsmacking range of subject "doors" from the search for value, to the impossibility of certainty, to the differences between "reality" and "art", to the mystery and enormity of death. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern debate identity and meaning, play questions, impersonate other characters, interrupt each other, comment on the plot and action, and are flung willy-nilly into scenes and situations they apparently have no desire or intention to be a part of. Throughout they remain bit players even in their own lives, confused about everything from where they are to who they are. Part of the poignance - and the comedy - here is that they are unable to take any significant action to help themselves, continually at the mercy of fate and the whims of greater men. The world they inhabit can appear arbitrary but the Player (or the playwright) reassures them (and us) that "There's a design at work in all art" even if we can't always see it.
Stoppard himself is not fond of discussing what his works are about, but he does admit that his favourite synopsis of this play came from a journalist colleague who saw the first production. According to his friend, the story concerns "two reporters on a story that doesn't stand up." That, along with unexpected pratfalls and the zing of the playwright's inexhaustible delight in wordplay. Add some of Soulpepper's most beloved comedic talents and you have a feast for the eye, ear and mind. Welcome to the 2013 season!
By Toby Malone, Ph.D
As a Shakespearean adaptation, Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead stands alone. While other playwrights have mimicked Stoppard's audacious narrative reversal to explore what happens when the characters from Hamlet are offstage - Djanet Sears' Harlem Duet and Anne-Marie Macdonald's Goodnight Desdemona, Good Morning Juliet are two outstanding Canadian examples - few have rivaled Stoppard's achievement.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are peripheral figures in Shakespeare's play: so expendable, in fact, that Laurence Olivier omitted both characters from his Oscar-winning 1948 film adaptation. Until Stoppard, the virtually (and literally, in some cases) interchangeable duo held as much significance as the Ambassadors and rogue Norwegian princes that peopled the world of Elsinore. By brilliantly reversing the negative, Stoppard pulls Hamlet's schoolmates, brought to court to discover the reasons behind his distemper, to the forefront, and reduces the Danish courts to supernumerary status. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern appear in the same scenes they populate in Hamlet: they meet the King and Queen; question the prince; watch a play; discover a murder; set sail for England. But they also live, argue, wager, and wait, Godot-like, in between Shakespeare's scenes, flipping coins, discussing their task, and pondering an existential crisis that threatens to rival Hamlet's. Beyond these titular characters, Stoppard delves into the world of the Players - wise travelling philosophers who help our hapless heroes better understand their own predicament. Stoppard's trademark wit lives at the forefront of this re-examination of familiar settings, a humour so incisive that after a viewing, it becomes difficult to view 'Hamlet' in the same way again.
Debuted in a slightly different format at the 1966 Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Stoppard's play has spawned film adaptations, Broadway and West End runs, and even a sequel to The Lion King - itself a loose adaptation of Hamlet - which sees the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern characters (a warthog and a meercat), converse between the scenes of the earlier film. An astonishing achievement for the 29 year old Stoppard (born Tomáš Straüssler in the old Czechoslovakia), Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead marks the first masterpiece in a career littered with genius.