This is for Dave and Daedalus who have both seen the film of ‘Rosencrantz &Guildenstern Are Dead’ . It is an attempt to persuade Dave that the film and play are more substantial than Marmite. I watched the film again, a few nights ago. it does seem rather different in construction to the play. There was a revival of the stage play about four years ago but I cannot remember the event in much detail. I might well have got things completely wrong. If you intend to see the live feed of the play, then this might be a spoiler. I think, if you do not know Hamlet, or go to the theatre, the film might not make a lot of sense. But the jury is out on this.
There are Stoppardian plots in the film ‘Shakespeare in Love‘ I do not think Stoppard wrote this film. According to the wiki, he is co-author with someone else. I saw a stage version a few years ago which was written by somebody completely different.
The film of ‘Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’ begins with two characters crossing a mountain path in a desolate, rocky landscape. One character tosses a coin which continually lands upon its head.. They enter a forest and it quickly emerges that they suffer from an identity crisis. All they know about themselves is that they have been invited to a court. All the information they have been given, is a few phrases from Shakespeare - the words on the page. This is all we know too. They are minor characters with very few lines. As the film progresses - and they are given a few more lines - they have more to work upon. They view the play from the wings, from behind curtains, and hear whispers etc. The film is rather sinister compared with the play. Stoppard uses this to comic, and sad effect. At their first meeting with Claudius and the court, the couple seguey from normal speak to Shakespeare speak. But the court soon vanishes and they are left to their philosophical musings. They have not much to do in the wings. Guildenstern does grasp Newtonian physics and, in a scene with a coffin, Stoppard might have gone further and investigated quantum theory, but I am not sure about this, I cannot remember, but I do not recall this being in the play.
But, back to the forest. A traveling troupe of players in some sort of gipsy caravan join the trail and now Stoppard - who wrote and directed the film himself - performs a series of conjuring tricks. The film is like one of those Russian dolls, which when opened, reveals smaller and smaller dolls inside. These dolls/plays are variations of both Hamlet and the sub plot -the play within the play. I do not recall that the stage play allows for this, At one point the hapless couple enter the play though falling down a trapdoor and emerge, as it were, on the main stage though a hatch, which Claudius promptly slams shut on their faces. At the end of the film the gipsy wagon closes itself on the play. The wagon then continues on its way down the trail. In my opinion it is a pity that Stoppard had not directed more films.
Of course, the play I saw four years ago might be different to the play I saw in 1975, and different to the play now in performance at the Old Vic. This may seem a bit odd, but I saw a recent production of Hedder Gabbler which had a very tenuous link with Ibsen. The play had characters with the same names as in the Ibsen play, and there was a remarkable similarity in the plot. But this was about all. As the play was a live feed, the director was interviewed during the interval, and he confessed that he wanted the play to be as far removed from Ibsen as it was possible to be. He certainly achieved his object. I booked to see a Moliere play tonight and, sadly, glanced, at a review this morning, which was a mistake. It is a Blackadder version of Moliere. But I will still go. (I usually do not read reviews at all, and go to previews because the seats can be less expensive) All the bad reviews mean is that I might have got a better stall seat later in the run, as less people will want to see it. (I’ve got a stall seat with a slightly restricted view.)