Sunday, 26 June 2011

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead Review

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead
by Tom Stoppard
Theatre Royal Haymarket SW1

Once More With Feeling

There is a Second World War poem by WH Auden Musee des Beaux Arts  about artistic and human perspectives on suffering, so maybe such ideas have had currency for a long time. But even an old idea can lead to something real and  heart-breaking in the centre. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are two minor Shakespearean characters whom Shakespeare (and possibly his source?) predestines to as grisly an end as most of the other characters in HamletAccording to the playwright Tom Stoppard, a fellow journalist on its first night, just over halfway through the 20th century,  was convinced Stoppard's play was actually about “two reporters on a story that doesn’t stand up”. Whatever, the idea of an anachronistic pair in Hamlet out-takes, trying to work out what the hell is going on in the dark and murky world of the King’s court was then new-ish and compelling. Knowing philosophical quips are a bit of a Stoppard trademark (TLT is an expert of course, having experienced, oh, at least four Stoppard plays … ;) ) and some critics have begrudged the clever-clever banter, finding the 1960s' post-modern premise a little dated. TLT had some sympathy for this view during the first half but it all still stands up in the context of the whole play – maybe today’s equivalent could be two elite economics students smugly debating their university theories and computerized financial models  – then after the interval cometh the crunch … (© TLT ;) ). It’s the second half of the story which comes up trumps with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s last journey, a poignant sea voyage,  stateless between Denmark and England, as they carry unwittingly the visa to their execution. Excellent cast and the final journey towards the inevitable eventually clinched it for TLT. An amber light.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Emperor and Galilean Review

Emperor and Galilean by Henrik Ibsen
National Theatre, London SE1

Bird’s Eye Ibsen

An odd, vertiginous night for TLT and her trusty automated Tonto for Henrik Ibsen’s longest play Emperor and Galilean. Odd for the moments of longeur and even the occasional sneaky peak at the watch. Yet, at the end, with a more aerial view, and arguments and imagery brought together, the experience felt valuable and moving. Set in classical times, it starts as a kind of Scandinavian Hamlet (yes, TLT knows where Elsinore is, but neither Shakespeare nor the Emperor Julian of this play were Scandinavian and Ibsen was!). Then transforms  into some kind of Macbeth before a painful and anguished sacrificial finale. Actually, if one is to have confidence in the conclusions of translation and adaptation, it follows one man’s life from  immature philosopher to warrior leader and final physical and spiritual defeat in the never-ending battle between pagan and Christian. At least, TLT would like to think of it as never-ending rather the more absolute idea of  Third Reich fusion, apparently later adopted by National Socialist philosophy for its own ends. There were junctions when everything sparked with flickerings of contemporary resonance – even with touches of piercing humour to warm up the austere, gargantuan text and design.  But other times it felt just too schematic. Nevertheless the passage from  lush Eastern religiosity through clean classical architecture to modern warfare and then back to the pathos and agony of the ending framed like a painting, classically-clad but New Testament-inspired, did eventually impose a pictorial and sensory logic. The acting was uniformly magnificent; the design, including multimedia, awe-inspiring but the length of the play gave TLT time to reflect  the Olivier is a big stage to fill. So hovering above this with hindsight, a green light for the acting and imagination behind this production, but, factoring in the ups and downs of a long evening, an amber light.