What has been the most challenging aspect of the production so far? Is it exciting or nerve wracking to be one of the first shows of the year?
Hugh Train (Rosencrantz): Merely from an acting point of view, the amount of time we’ve had to get the show together has been brief – we’ve had to learn a vast amount in a very short space of time, and it’s meant that fitting in characterisation and line learning has not been an unassailable challenge, but it’s been difficult.
Dom Williams (Director): I think understanding the play. It’s very complex. There are lots of things that you miss on the first read-through. In fact, I actually think it’s necessary to come see it twice, on Friday and Saturday night… maybe even Thursday too. There are lots of underlying themes that are difficult to pick up on.
Describe the show in one sentence.
HT: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern have a load of existential fun.
DUCT is supposed to be for Classical Theatre – what makes ‘Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead’ a classic?
HT: The fact that it’s connected to Hamlet is probably its least tenuous link.
DW: I think also DUCT just wanted to put this play on if I’m honest. I think it’s wrong to say ‘No you’re just classical theatre, you’re not allowed.’ It’s a staggeringly good play, very well written, very interesting and complex, and the idea is so novel and revolutionary that its almost beyond belief that someone’s created it.
Do you think Shakespeare purists would object to the play? Is it acceptable to elaborate on his characters in this way?
Jenny Walser (Guildenstern): Why should they object? They should love that we’re delving more into it.
HT: It’s absurd to suggest that the characters in this play are really the same as the characters in Hamlet. They’re really entirely new. It’s a distinct piece that is just interestingly and intricately connected to the original.
DW: It’s just drawing on Shakespeare’s Hamlet as a resource and then building something new, rather than retrospectively changing Shakespeare.
JW: You don’t really get to know them in Shakespeare’s work.
Would you say that the play is more engaging than Hamlet itself because of its existentialist qualities? Or does this alienate?
HT: It’s kind of like comparing apples and oranges and asking which one is better. They’re incomparable, and both mammoth pieces of literature in their own right. They are fundamentally different, moving in fundamentally different directions. It’s not alienating: it’s fascinating in a different way.
DW: I mean, practically they are very different plays. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern is focused almost entirelyon Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, whereas there’s a lot more about other characters built into Hamlet.
JW: They’re both equally difficult to understand…
Is an understanding of Hamlet necessary to feel comfortable with the play?
DW: A rudimentary understanding.
HT: It may be helpful to know the main drive of Hamlet, but I can’t say I knew much about Hamlet before I was involved with this.
JW: You’ll maybe get more out of it. The audience can pat themselves on the back if they do recognise something, perhaps.
DW: If you want to come just for a funny night then that’s fine. Its first success was at the Fringe, so it was written to be independently funny. You can enjoy it on two different levels
HT: It’s not like in its early performances Stoppard was all like ‘you haven’t seen Hamlet? Get out!’
Is this a play to be enjoyed, or does its absurd nature prevent the audience from finding it a pleasant experience?
DW: Its’ not like Endgame, which is a distinctly unpleasant and difficult absurdist piece. It’s meant to be funny and enjoyable. We’ve had disagreements over this, but I feel you should empathise with the characters and like them. You shouldn’t leave feeling terrible about your own existence.
HT: It’s like a meringue isn’t it. Looks solid but is actually quite light.
DW: No it’s not. It’s a meringue made of lead. I guess you can eat as a meringue, or eat is as lead though… or eat is as a meringue and have it feel like lead inside you later.
Are there any other minor Shakespearean characters that you feel could be explored in the same way?
HT: In theory it could be done with literally anyone. It’s quite appropriate with Rosencrantz & Guildenstern because they’re a double act. I don’t think its chance that he chose Rosencrantz & Guildenstern by chance, but I don’t feel it could only be done with them.
DW: I guess it comes back to the earlier question. The play is not that intrinsically linked to Hamlet. But equally, it says a lot about Shakespeare that you can take his themes, and extend them.
JW: In Shakespeare there are lots of characters who you don’t really find out what has actually happened to them; quite often you just hear that they are dead. Like Mistress Quickly in Henry V, you just hear that she has died. So that gives a bit of scope for development.
Is there an irony to the theme of determinism, given that the actors are controlled by the script that dictates them?
HT: In a sense, the play is very self-aware. I say that I feel like a spectator at times, and we constantly feel that we part of the action, but also watching the action – very aware of these other forces. There are many levels of determinism here.
DW: I just hope the audience pick up on this irony and laugh the whole way through.
HT: And that they just laugh because we’re hilarious.
Will this show epitomize what Durham Theatre is all about, or will it be something we’ve never seen before?
HT: I mean what is Durham theatre all about? I guess in terms of providing excellent student theatre, I hope we fulfill all criteria. I’m not sure that this show has been performed before, so in that sense it is new.
DW: It’s nice that it has a massive cast. It’s a modern play, which is also nice, and it doesn’t get performed too often.
Complete the sentence: If you loved ‘………’, you will love ‘Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead’.
HT: If you loved Waiting for Godot probably.
DW: If you love Pinter, if you love classical literature. If you love going out on a Wednesday to Loveshack, then you’ll love this.
HT: If you love life. Infinite possibilities here.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, 16th to 18th October, 7.30pm at The Assembly Rooms.
Photograph: Shreyas Murali