Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

Written by Tom Stoppard

Thursday 4th March to Saturday 6th March and Thursday 11th March to Saturday 13th March 1982

Directed by Dik Bird

Showing events from the point of view of two minor characters from Hamlet, men who have no control over their destiny, this play examines fate and asks if we can ever really know what's going on? Are answers as important as the questions? Will Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (or Guildenstern and Rosencrantz) manage to discover the source of Hamlet's malaise as requested by the new king? Will the mysterious players who are strolling around the castle reveal the secrets they evidently know? And whose serve is it?

AuthorTom Stoppard

Sir Tom Stoppard OBE (b 1937)

Born Tomas Straussler in Czechoslovakia, Stoppard grew up in Singapore and India during the Second World and moved to England in 1946 with his mother and stepfather (from whom he takes his surname). Having been educated in England he became a journalist and theatre critic for various newspapers in Bristol. He began writing plays for radio and television in 1964 and enjoyed his first major success with 'Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead' which premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 1966. It was immediately hailed as a modern dramatic masterpiece.

His plays for the National Theatre have included 'Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead', 'Jumpers', 'On the Razzle' and 'The Coast of Utopia'. He also translated a number of plays including those of Mrozek, Nestroy, Schnitzler and Havel, and was heavily influenced by the work of the Polish and Czech absurdists. In 1977, after visiting Russia with a member of Amnesty International, Stoppard became concerned with a number of human rights issues which have manifested themselves in his work. 'Professional Foul', a television play, was Stoppard's contribution to Amnesty International's declaration of 1977 as 'Prisoner of Conscience Year'.

In addition to his work for the stage, Stoppard has written a number of screenplays including 'The Human Factor', 'Empire of the Sun', and 'Billy Bathgate'. In 1999, he won the Best Screenplay Oscar for for 'Shakespeare in Love' which he co-authored with Marc Norman. To date he has also won two Tony Awards.

Stoppard was awarded the OBE in 1978, he was knighted in 1997 and awarded the Order of Merit in 2000. He has been married twice (for a time to doctor and TV presenter Miriam Stoppard), has four sons and he currently lives in London.

PlayRosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

'Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead' is an absurdist, existentialist tragicomedy first staged at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 1966. The play expands upon the exploits of the two most minor characters from Shakespeare's 'Hamlet', the courtiers Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. The action of Stoppard's play takes place mainly in the wings of Shakespeare's play, with brief appearances of major characters from 'Hamlet' who enact fragments of the original play's scenes. Between these episodes the two protagonists voice their confusion at the progress of events of which - occurring onstage without them in 'Hamlet' - they have no direct knowledge.

The main source of 'Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead' is Shakespeare's 'Hamlet'. Comparisons have also been drawn to Samuel Beckett's 'Waiting For Godot' for the presence of two central characters who almost appear to be two halves of a single character. Many plot features are similar as well: the characters pass time by playing Questions, impersonating other characters, and interrupting each other or remaining silent for long periods of time. The title is taken directly from a passage by an ambassador in the final scene of Hamlet that is quoted in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.

The Bench Production

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead poster image

This play was staged at Havant Arts Centre, East Street Havant - Bench Theatre's home since 1977.


GuildensternDavid Penrose
RosencrantzPeter Corrigan
PlayerDavid Urquart
TragedianDavid Roberts
TragedianTony Heptinstall
TragediansKeith Cobbald
TragediansKevin Fisher
AlfredAlan Jenkins
HamletDavid Dipnall
OpheliaJude Salmon
ClaudiusAnthony Elliott
GertrudeJill Sawyer
PoloniusDerek Cusdin


Director Dik Bird
Stage Manager Jacquie Penrose
Lights and sound Brian Smith
Costumes Jane Hart
Set Jim Charlton
Steve Reading
Poster Design Steve Reading

Director's Notes

In the days of one-week rep, in provincial performances of 'Hamlet', the two smallest parts of the play, the attendant lords Rosencrantz and Guildenstern would often be played by ASM's or passing tea-persons. As a result, confusion as to which was which, and why often arose. Stoppard uses this theatrical anecdote as a starting point for his play, which explores what happens to the individual's sense of his own identity when he is caught up on the edge of a major drama when no-one can remember who he is.

Dik Bird


The News G.S.

Rosencrantz' is an excellent treat

For Tom Stoppard fans Havant Bench Theatre's production of 'Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead' at the Arts Centre, East Street, is a treat. The cast, headed by David Penrose and Peter Corrigan give excellent performances which would be hard to better in many professional productions of the play. Every drop of humour - and there is plenty of it - is wrung from the script, and even I - not easily made to chuckle - found parts of the play irresistible.

But the play will not be to everyone's taste. When Rosencrantz (Pete Corrigan) said: "I want a good story with a beginning a middle and an end", I was forced to wonder why he had agreed to appear in this. During the interval - feeling very shame faced - I asked the Director (Mr Dik Bird) what the first half had been all about. And as the second half got underway I gave up wondering and sat back and enjoyed the excellent acting and witty script.

An explanation of sorts is finally sprung on the audience towards the end. But why couldn't we have been told sooner just how simple and straight forward the story line was? Two men, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, are summoned to Prince Hamlet of Denmark and later requested to escort him to the King of England with secret instructions that Hamlet be killed. The situation is confused by the fact that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern kill much of their empty time playing games and trying to remember who they are. Thrown in to this are pirates and a band of tragedians who say they are at their best when they are dying - and I was not going to dispute that, although their performances in the play were commendable.

A little more explanation at the beginning would have done much to enhance what was really an excellent production all round.

The News, 5th March 1982

Programme notes