Oxford Playhouse's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Hamlet’s childhood friends, are summoned to Elsinore. They try to find their way through (and their place within) the plot of Hamlet, an offstage world and some big philosophical questions
From 18th-19th March the Oxford Playhouse 17|25 Young Company perform this Stoppard classic. Sam Bennett spoke to company director Jo Noble about risk, ensemble work and music...
Michael Billington recently brought out a book entitled 101 Greatest Plays : From Antiquity to the Present. While Tom Stoppard’s The Real Thing features at number 92, another of his works, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, is absent from the list. When I spoke to Billington about the book he said: “I’m not the Pope issuing a list of infallible choices. I’m simply offering you a challenge – you come back to me and tell me what you think I have missed out.”
It’s a challenge I reckon Jo Noble would be confident in taking on. “I’m surprised Rosencrantz and Guildenstern isn’t in Billington’s top 100.” She told me. “I would have thought in many respects it has more going for it and is more representative as Stoppard as a writer than The Real Thing.”
It’s 400 years since Shakespeare died, and also it is 50 years since Rosencrantz and Guildenstern was first performed. Marking these anniversaries is the Oxford Playhouse 17|25 Young Company. “I love working with young people.” Jo says. “They haven’t become cynical…and they are prepared to take risks.” The company is an ensemble one and this is not traditionally an ensemble play; it is fortunate that this group has risk-takers then…how do you make this much celebrated work an ensemble piece? “It was much easier and more straightforward than I had first anticipated.” The director said. It seems a play that is about everyman to a degree lends itself well to ensemble work – it actually strikes me as most appropriate to have lots of different people tell the story.
Jo spoke about how the group are communicating the story in question, one example being through music. “I’ve got a wonderful music director.” She says of Matt Winkworth. “I’ve written him a brief that would make very experienced musicians tear their hair out but somehow he manages to fulfil it. In the opening number we want to get people aware that there’s philosophy, the theory of this, the intuition of that, that sense of not being able to find out where we’re going…and he will come up with something! I’ve worked with him before and it is a marriage of minds that works.”
Might some be put off by philosophy and theories? “There is philosophy and all sorts of clever stuff but it’s absolutely marinated in humour.” She stated. “It asks those big questions in life but in such a way that it doesn’t become dull or purely academic.” This doesn’t mean she escapes questions academics might have for her regarding what she has put on; the company always hold a Q&A session after their matinee performance. “All the company is up there,” she says, “they do all the answering, it’s only when somebody who has made Hamlet their lifetime study asks a question that they’ll look to me!”
When I had asked the questions I wanted to ask, Jo turned her attention to my own background in Drama, before enthusing about how the subject benefits people. “So many people have got so much from studying Drama.” She said. “In a study of characterisation, even if you’re given the role of a villain, you have to find out why that person does what they do, it’s a really good way of putting yourself in someone else’s shoes.” Frankly that’s a quality we could all do with practicing.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead
18th March, 8.00pm
19th March, 2.30pm & 7.30pm
Oxford Playhouse, Beaumont Street, Oxford, OX1 2LW
£15, Discounts available, a limited number of £5 tickets for under 18s and OPT In! members
01865 305305 | www.oxfordplayhouse.com | in person at Oxford Playhouse Box Office
Shakespeare Oxford 2016
2016 marks 400 years since the death of William Shakespeare. The Bard is being celebrated in all manner of ways by brilliant companies at some of our favourite venues.
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