Leon Potter’s production of Tom Stoppard’s 1966 play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (RGAD), which ran at the Malaspina Theatre from Nov. 1–10, keeps the audience questioning reality.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are originally minor characters from Hamlet that Stoppard has taken and successfully created a completely different style of play using many of the same characters. The play begins with Rosencrantz flipping a coin, and continuously coming up with heads. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are stuck wondering, for the first several minutes of the play, where they came from and how they got to where they are now. To completely understand and thoroughly enjoy this play, it is important to have a basic understanding of Hamlet, as there are fragments of the major scenes from Hamlet throughout RGAD. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are learning about Hamlet and his many problems with the help of The Player, Alfred, and her five tragedians.
Rosencrantz is played by Taylor Bates, who is a first year in VIU’s Theatre department, and Guildenstern is played by Bobby Katnich. The two spend the entire first two acts on stage, but at no point does their stage presence waver. Bates keeps the overall feeling light and hopeful, while also displaying a mastering of comedic timing. Katnich really dives into his role by keeping the play level and reminding the audience that their character’s fate is set. The two leads parallel each other nicely, keeping a good pace and thoroughly enjoying themselves on stage, which makes the audience relax and enjoy it with them. The Player is played by the charismatic Samantha Pawliuk, who never fails to bring excitement and class to the stage. Pawliuk is an expert at commanding attention from the audience and then delivering, whether it is a fantastic monologue or memorable one liners such as, “We’re actors, we’re the opposite of people!” The supporting cast, especially Hamlet played by Josh Burns, and the tragedians ensure that there isn’t a dull moment on stage.
As great as the directing and acting is in this production, what truly steals the show is the set which was designed by Brian Ball. A newer addition to Malaspina Theatre, Ball has created a design that gave the audience something to truly appreciate whether they are returning theatre-goers or not. Ball channels Rene Magritte in his set design, which is clear through his use of the pipe from the infamous painting, “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” (This is not a pipe). There is a point in the play where the original and seemingly basic set of beautifully painted clouds opens up into an eye (where no matter where you’re sitting, it’s looking at you) and The Player walks out through the iris, which gets a resounding awe from the audience. Potter and Ball work well together to create a complex production that manages to not confuse the audience with philosophical themes as well as an overdone set. Overall, Malaspina Theatre’s production of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead was a worthwhile experience.