(Theatre Royal, Haymarket, London, 16 June-20 August 2011)
Tom Stoppard’s wonderful play is a modern classic: a witty, intelligent and strangely poignant exploration of what happens when every exit is an entrance somewhere else. I am very fond of the film, starring Gary Oldman and Tim Roth, but this production, directed by Trevor Nunn, was very impressive.
I thought the dynamic on stage, between Samuel Barnett and Jamie Parker, was just wonderful. It helped, of course, that they were both in The History Boys, probably one of my favourite films. Jamie Parker was more forceful and discursive, actively trying to control a fate which was visibly slipping further out of control; while Samuel Barnett was more tremulous and inscure, querulously flitting around the stage.The production plays up comparisons with Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, although fortunately R&G is a lot more fun. I confess to having been put off Beckett by a student production of Waiting for Godot in Oxford, where I got up to leave the theatre with great relief – only to be told it was only the interval and I still had half the play left to sit through. I should point out, in all fairness, that the auditorium at the Haymarket did seem to thin out after the interval, which surprised me – perhaps some of the theatregoers weren’t expecting such a high level of existentialism.
To my mind, however, this is a stunning adaptation of the play, with two incredibly strong leads and a very capable ensemble backing them up. One directorial decision I particularly liked, I have to add, is the way they wove the text of Hamlet further into Stoppard’s text, by allowing Hamlet or the King to begin a soliloquy as they moved offstage, the words gradually growing fainter as they swept off and left our heroes once more marooned alone. My only criticism might be that the second half felt a trifle too long – but as I wouldn’t want to sacrifice any of Stoppard’s lines, I don’t really have a solution to that. In my mind, one of the best plays on in London at the moment.