Tom Stoppard’s 1966 work is embraced by many for its extraordinary wit and intellect. Sydney Theatre Company attracts vasts numbers of audiences, and it is a brave choice to present this play that many a lay person will find too wordy, philosophical, and abstract. Big chunks of text and their associated big ideas are delivered successively and quickly, and it is a challenging experience trying to keep up with every concept being discussed. However, like many great works of art, it is not only what you understand, but also what you don’t understand that makes the consumption of it necessary and worthwhile. Art inspires and elevates, even while it confuses.
From a technical perspective, the company continues to impress. Design elements are faultless, and execution of sound and lighting are perfectly honed to a fine craft. The theatre seats 900 people but it never feels too vast, even for a show like this where majority of the action involves just two actors. Performances are excellent, with Tim Minchin’s uncanny ability to blur the line between actor and role consistently outshining his counterparts. He seems so completely natural on stage, one can hardly imagine a different “real person” existing separately when the show is over. Ewen Leslie is the real showman in this production. He creates a mischievous character, infectious in his playfulness, and setting the stage alight at every entrance. After Cat On A Hot Tin Roof with Belvoir St Theatre, and the Tony Krawitz film, Dead Europe, it is thrilling to see Leslie’s departure from dark and broody roles to one that is full of vigour and hilarity.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead can be considered highbrow, but it’s central theme of “life and death” is universal. Playing with words, theatrical mechanisms, philosophical theories will not appeal to all, but we can relate to the existential conundrum that is the one constant in our lives. It is infinitely more satisfying to watch Rosencrantz and Guildenstern wrestling with the meaning of life, than for one to be engaged in endless self-examination. With any luck, you might even encounter ideas that could provide some level of enlightenment and make that arduous process, sometimes known as life, a bit more bearable.