2024, Theatre

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead Live at the CAA Theatre Toronto March 27, 2024

Something like 20 years ago, I watched the film version of this with Gary Oldman and Tim Roth. I enjoyed at the time but was told by a friend, and many movie critics, that the play was better. I guess I sort of always wished to see it. Jenn saw that it was playing downtown and we decided to go.

One of the most interesting things to me, about this production, is that it is a Halifax theatre production (The Neptune) that’s come to Toronto, somehow starring two film and TV actors who are not Canadian. (Dominic Monaghan and Billy Boyd.) How these two got in a stage production in Halifax I have no idea, but I’m kind of interested to know why. Monaghan in particular seems slightly to big to be starring in a Halifax theatre production. Anyway, clearly it was a success as it’s travelled here where, presumably, the ticket prices are higher, the population is bigger and more people may notice.

The film is significantly shorter than the play – as is often the case with Shakespeare adaptations, as well – but it’s been too long for me to remember what was cut and what was included. One virtue I think the film likely has, despite its reputation as a lesser work, is its brevity. Though this play is a play about characters from a five act play, I do think the pacing is a little bit of an issue. Of course, that’s a main part of the point, so it’s rather a silly criticism on my part.

The play is pretty funny, particularly in the second act when there the most jokes. There are some tonal shifts that are, again, I guess part of the nature of the beat that feel a tiny bit jarring. But on the whole it is quite entertaining.

The production itself is fun. There isn’t much on stage but it is shifted around and combined in different ways in order to make the stage more interesting. I know this is pretty commonplace now in live theatre but I always appreciate when it’s well done and here it is well done.

I’m not a connoisseur of theatre acting. (I should be when it comes to film but I’ve long cared more about other aspects of film, more often than not.) So I can’t really comment too much on the performances except to say that, occasionally Boyd’s Scottish accent was just the teeniest bit too thick for me and that the actor playing Hamlet’s voice is so low that I occasionally had a hard time hearing him up in the cheap seats. (That being said, I have seen versions of Hamlet so many times that it’s not really a problem for me if I can’t hear half a line.) Both Jenn and I thought Michael Blake as The Player was the highlight, but you could argue that it is a pretty great role.

Anyway, I’m happy I’ve finally seen it. We should have watched a full version of Hamlet beforehand to remind us about all the salient plot points but I know the story well enough it wasn’t really a problem for me. I wonder if I’ll re-watch the film version now.

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