When you think about it, the incredulous exchange is perfectly natural. ‘What’s he doing?’ asks one. ‘Talking,’ the other replies. ‘To himself?’
Well, it would be a reasonable response to the soliloquising of the hero of Shakespeare’s tragedy, Hamlet.
That play is turned upside down by Tom Stoppard in his early comedy focusing on two originally minor characters, and it becomes an exploration of the nature of life, death and even theatre itself.
The opening tableau, two men and a tree, instantly evokes the world of Waiting For Godot, but Stoppard’s play is more easily accessible than that.
The production is a triumph for director Trevor Nunn in terms of the energy he brings to speech, movement and timing, but also for the young actors playing the title roles.
Samuel Barnett and Jamie Parker made their mark in the National Theatre production of The History Boys and clearly have a highly developed sense of teamwork, playing off each other in the verbal fireworks in exactly the way the text demands.
These characters are lost in a world they cannot understand. ‘What in God’s name is going on?’ one demands. But the actors are on top of every detail.
The other key performer is Chris Andrew Mellon, who has stepped in as understudy for Tim Curry as The Player. Might the latter have brought a touch more swagger to the role? Maybe, but Mellon has fully mastered it.
Simon Higlett’s design is high on brooding atmosphere.
Until June 11.