By Isaac Butler
Another twitter inspired post... Earlier today, a group of us were talking on twitter about the preponderence of revivals of Stoppard's The Real Thing. Indian Ink has never had even an Off-Broadway run, Jason Zinoman noted, while Dan Kois mentioned that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead hasn't been revived in a major New York production in a long, long time. (In fact, according to the Off-Broadway Database, the last production of the show in New York was at the Roundabout in 1987, starring Stephen Lang, John Rubenstein and John Wood).
Anyway, I don't have an answer other than The Real Thing is a crowd pleaser with a small cast, and revivals of it likely soak up some of the magic of David Laveuax's flawless Broadway production of a few years back. But I did remember that Joe Orton wrote about Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead a few times in his diaries, and that he wasn't exactly a fan. Here, in his dishy, private form, are his thoughts on the show from a few entries. The most interesting thing, to me, was that apparently there was a post-Godot trend on the British stage of characters waiting for action to occur:
"Kenneth and I went to see the dress rehearsal of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, a new play at the National. V. interesting. A wonderful idea. I'd give anything to have such an original idea. Unfortunately, the only the drama in the play is by Shakespeare. There kept being the usual dialogue between two bored people waiting for something to happen.... This derived from Look Back in Anger and Waiting for Godot in euqal parts. It's been done many, many times in the last ten years: Green Julia, Little Malcolm, Won't Somebody Please Say Something. The interest in the play was that the two who have the duologues are Rosencrantz and Guildenstern."
After giving a summary of the first act, Orton writes, "Knowing nothing of the plot of Hamlet, they have to discover the situation for themselves. This is fascinating and terribly funny until the end of the second act... When he tells Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to `go before me' we know that W. Shakespeare... has left us. The third act is the modern author's invention... and it isn't good enough. It fact it isn't there. What a wonderful idea, though. How I wish I'd stumbled onto it. It should've been about the futility of students-- always talking, talking, talking and never doing anything. Great events, murders, adulteries, dreadful revenge happening all aroudn them and they just talk. Thi is what the play should've been about and wasn't."
A few days later, he reads an American play called Macbird, a parody of Macbeth:
"Juvenile, undergraduate and firmly rooted in the college campus. I suppose the English equivalent is Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. How well the English play stands up to the America. R * G... is, admittedly, undergraduate and juvenile, but it has powerful and brilliant writing in it-- particularly the scenes with the Player. Macbird is the kind of thing anyone can, and a lot of people have, mocked-up to amuse themselves."
If you've never read Joe Orton's diaries, by the way, they're my favorite thing he wrote. Really incredible and repugnant in equal measure.