Venue: Blood Moon Theatre (Potts Point NSW), May 10 – 21, 2016
Playwright: Tom Stoppard
Director: Chris McKay
Cast: Amy Victoria Books, Emily Burke, Lauren Crew, Krystiann Dingas, Emilia Stubbs Grigoriou, Leofric Kingsford-Smith, Amanda Maple-Brown, Logan McArthur, David McLaughlin, Sarah Plummer
Image by Stephen Godfrey
There is a lot of truth in what Tom Stoppard has to say in Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead. His existential angst may not be shared by all, but his ruminations about the nature of life are as real as they are fascinating. Through a long narrative in which nothing much happens, ideas about time, memory and volition are explored at great depth, not necessarily to provide enlightenment, but for the sheer pleasure of intensive introspection. The genius of Stoppard’s writing is in the very words collated to express abstractions that exist in our minds, making matter out of ephemeral concepts by having dialogue occupy the space of theatre.
Direction by Chris McKay brings to the stage an articulate and thoughtful representation of the text’s meanings. Relying on little more than his actors’ bodies and voices (design is kept minimal, although costumes by Zjarie Paige-Butterworth are very accomplished), the poetic and philosophical qualities of the play are given resonance from beginning to end, reflecting a thorough appreciation of the material by its very able cast. Krystiann Dingas and Emilia Stubbs Grigoriou are Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, both passionate and expressive, help us distil one of the densest theatrical masterpieces, to achieve a level of immersion and comprehension that is admittedly rare in iterations of Stoppard’s work. Both actors are confident, dynamic and very likeable, which is a relief considering the two-and-a-half hour duration. Also remarkable is Amanda Maple-Brown as the Player. Flamboyant and exuberant, yet astutely nuanced, her work is resolutely entertaining, with a delightful and exhilarating presence that leaves a strong impression.
Every significant male character is performed by a female actor in this rendition of Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead. How that decision affects our spectatorship is entirely subjective, but it does bring to focus the quality of parts and opportunities available to women in theatre. Plays have certainly emerged from feminist ideologies, but none have attained the reverence that titles such as this inspire in all our Western societies. To combat the persistence of the theatrical canon and the misogyny therein, gender reversal is a subversive device that serves a purpose greater than experimentation. Finding a way to exorcise patriarchy from all the old and usual suspects that refuse to go away is critical to the development of art in every civilisation. We may not be able to remove masculinity from Michelangelo’s Creation Of Adam, but we can disrupt the hegemony imposed upon us on every screen and stage.