Recently, I had the privilege of seeing The Acting Company’s live performances of two renowned plays: William Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. Although I had read and discussed these plays in one of my English classes, in addition to having viewed the film versions of both, I had never before seen a live theatre production of either one of these plays; therefore, I had absolutely no idea what to expect!
In general, my reaction to Hamlet was an extremely positive one. I thought it contained all the necessary elements of a “well-made play,” including logical plot progression, clear exposition, mounting suspense, and resolution. Not only were the Elizabethan-style costumes and minimalist set (only several large archways and a single staircase leading offstage) highly effective, but the relatively contemporary—and even witty—dialogue made the play especially appealing to the predominantly young audience.
Overall, I found the acting absolutely superb. All of the characters in the play were played by a diverse, talented and dedicated cast that gave a consistently strong performance throughout the show. The realization of how much work must have gone into rehearsals in order to achieve this desired outcome gave me a much greater appreciation for the members of The Acting Company and actors in general. It was no wonder that this epic production of Hamlet received a standing ovation from the audience at the end of the night!
The second play, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, was truly a pleasure to experience. As soon as the lights went down and I heard the distinct sound of coins being spun, I knew I was in for a real treat. In my opinion, the stylistic/artistic choices used in this play were extremely intricate and advanced; there were many changes of scenery that were perfectly executed and extremely impressive, considering the short amount of time the actors were given offstage.
Without a doubt, this play was much more humorous than Hamlet, especially with the countless sexual references that had the audience roaring with laughter. The very last scene of the production was totally unanticipated and had me feeling emotionally drained yet somehow satisfied. I enjoyed the play’s juxtaposition of tragedy and comedy because it seemed to depict real life and raw human emotion, inviting the audience to connect and identify with both Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. It reminded me of the broader existential themes presented in the original text and forced me to think both critically and philosophically about my own role in the universe, which perhaps resonated with me most of all. The play effectively captivated the audience with its whimsical humor and, as with Hamlet, received a standing ovation at the end of the night.
Both of these performances were truly insightful and enlightening. Most of all, they taught me that plays really are meant to be viewed. One cannot get the “full experience” of a play by simply reading it; rather, one must see it performed live onstage with each of the actors bringing their respective characters to life.
Personally witnessing these two plays being acted out right before my eyes positively affected my understanding of both of them and allowed me to reconsider my initial readings. I most definitely will not read Shakespearean drama the same way after having seen these shows, but I am thankful for that. I enjoy having a variety of interpretations with which I can look at works of literature, and I feel that I have certainly gained a fresh new perspective as a result of having attended both Hamlet and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.