Monaghan & Boyd astound in Neptune Theatre’s “Rosencrantz & Guildenstern”

Monaghan & Boyd astound in Neptune Theatre’s “Rosencrantz & Guildenstern”
All photos by Stoo Metz, courtesy of Neptune Theatre.
Must see  -   Theatre

If you were to tell me years ago that one of the biggest draws to Nova Scotia’s premiere regional theatre in 2024 would be a pair of hobbits, I would’ve told you to lay off the pipe-weed. And when Neptune Theatre first announced that Dominic Monaghan and Billy Boyd would be starring in the modern classic Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, few could believe it. But the event quickly took the city by storm for a sold-out run, and the hype was absolutely to be believed.


Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead is the beloved play by iconic playwright Tom Stoppard and is a meta-narrative reflection on two of the seemingly most inconsequential characters in Hamlet. Taking place primarily in a liminal space offstage during the moments in between the action of Hamlet, it follows the inane existential bumblings of the titular pair as they try to navigate their roles in the world of the play. Originally an Edinburgh Fringe production in 1966, this fascinating examination of mortality, existence, and the legendary play itself has held a rabid devotion by the Western theatre for decades.



To get the most obvious statement out of the way, Monaghan and Boyd are superb in their performances. There is a conversational ease between them playing off one another that sparks and titillates, giving the energy of a Shakespearean Fry and Laurie. Their humour is effortless, their pace galloping, and their immersion in the transient world unmistakable. Yet despite being masters of the wit and wonder this strange play provides, the stakes and truly weighty significance that arise from their pondering are never far from the surface. Monaghan and Boyd give a class act in absurdism and deliver unanswered questions with stupefying grins.


Neptune’s artistic director Jeremy Webb serves as director for the piece, and you can see the influence of his history as a creator and performer. Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead is very much an actor’s play, and the vision of this production puts the onus on this captivatingly. From the simplistic set of rotating risers varyingly cloaked in scrim (designed by Andrew Cull), to the mechanics of bodies in space (beautifully orchestrated by movement director Angela Gasparetto) punctuating the scenes of the acting troupe, to the luxuriating in silence and levity in a space where there is nowhere else to go—it all amounts to a spectacle of emotional and intellectual craft.



A thing of note in the energy of this production was the dichotomy between Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and the rest of the characters. There are essentially two worlds to this play: that of Stoppard’s modernist existentialism in the wings and that of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Boyd and Monaghan assuredly occupy the former with their performances, but even those who share in their scenes—most obviously The Player, played by Michael Blake—all seem to occupy the latter. There is a decidedly “Shakespearian” and grand energy to their delivery. And this is not to the detriment of the production, Blake particularly wearing this with a lupine flare. But it does form an interesting bubble around Boyd and Monaghan, underlining the way that these characters feel universally misplaced.


Neptune’s production of Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead is truly a shining gem across the theatre’s long history. When an event can get non-theatre-goers rushing for tickets, it’s an enlivening thing to see in this day and age. It means all the more when the piece truly does live up to expectations, and Dominic Monaghan and Billy Boyd truly deliver cerebral magic.


The production tours to Toronto’s Mirvish Theatre from March 5th to 31st.