John Deaderick: Hamlet on its head |

John Deaderick: Hamlet on its head

John Deaderick
Special to The Union

Daniel Radcliffe and Joshua McGuire in "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead," at Sierra Cinemas Wednesday.

Imagine, if you will, that a play's characters have lives offstage as well as on. This concept comes easily for actors; a standard exercise in acting class runs something like this: what does your character do ten minutes prior to your entrance? Also, what will your character be doing ten minutes after your exit, or even later? Thus we have (somewhat) the premise of Stoppard's existential comedic masterpiece, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. Stoppard has taken two minor, though pivotal, characters from Shakespeare's Hamlet and thrust them into the foreground. Other major players and scenes from Shakespeare are there, including Hamlet himself in caricature of the doomed Danish Prince.

We bear witness to their struggle as they question their identity, their purpose, their memories. The more philosophical Guildenstern (brilliantly performed by Joshua McGuire) expresses greater angst than the rather slow Rosencrantz. The pair embodies the crisis of their incompleteness. They only know what the original author, Shakespeare, has set down for them to know, and that's not much. They are sketches, lost in the larger world of events that eventually overwhelm them.


The play's 1966 premiere made Stoppard's reputation. Stoppard has said that he took his inspiration from Sir Laurence Olivier's 1948 film, in which R & G scarcely appear, being sacrificed by the director to pare a four-and-a-half hour play (Shakespeare's longest) down to ninety minutes.

The current National Theatre Live production thrills in every way. It sails at high speed, with crackling dialogue, sharp sight gags, surreal music, and rewards to the literate. Daniel Radcliffe continues to shed Harry Potter. The interplay of his Rosencrantz with McGuire's Guildenstern is deft, sure, and spot on. Luke Mullins' melodramatic matinee idol Hamlet strikes the perfect note. David Haig's The Player provides a brilliant turn, full of humor, malice, and the unexpected. The mesmerizing band of Players evokes an immensely satisfying strangeness. The play's words and wit fly swiftly and demand of the audience the close attention that pays dividends. Special mention must be made of the venue, the beautiful 200-year-old Old Vic, which at times feels like another character.

For a slightly different take, after you feast on this special 50th Anniversary presentation, check out the 1990 film with Tim Roth and Gary Oldman. But by all means, go see this version, it is just so good. It plays again at Sierra Cinemas Wednesday at 3:30 p.m.

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John Deaderick is a local theatre artist and the author of Make Sweet the Minds of Men: Early Opera and Tragic Catharsis, available at


WHO: Sierra Cinemas Presents

WHAT: National Theatre Live: Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead

WHEN: Wednesday, April 26 at 3:30 p.m.

WHERE: Sierra Cinemas, E. Main Street Grass Valley

TICKETS: $18 Adults, $15 Seniors, Children 12 and under & students with ID; Available online at or at the Sierra Cinemas Box Office

INFO:, 530-477-9000

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