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Why Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead with Daniel Radcliffe is an unlikely success

The Old Vic’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead manages to make Tom Stoppard's out-of-fashion absurdism work. 

“The only beginning is birth and the only end is death,” says Guildenstern midway through the play that bears his name. “If you can’t count on that, what can you count on?” This is a Tom Stoppard play, so you can also count on sharp dialogue, philosophical digressions and self-aware humour. Sometimes, this is genuinely funny; at others, it teases theatregoers into laughing to prove that they are sophisticated enough to get the joke. (At one point, Rosencrantz yells, “Fire!” and then explains to an alarmed Guildenstern: “It’s all right: I’m demonstrating the misuse of free speech.”)

The star power is provided by Harry Potter’s Daniel Radcliffe, whose casting as the less loquacious Rosencrantz is endearing. On red carpets and in press interviews, DanRad radiates an air of perpetual apology – for being too rich and too famous, for taking up roles that might otherwise have gone to someone in a garret. So he’s a tough sell as a leading man; but he is perfectly cast here as a character saddled with the nagging feeling that something very bad is happening just on the edge of his vision.

This makes the players’ rehearsal of The Murder of Gonzago, which anchors Act III of Hamlet, unexpectedly moving. After the dumb show that so upsets the guilty Claudius, we learn how the story would have ended: two friends go with Gonzago’s son to England, where they are hanged as spies. Radcliffe’s Rosencrantz – who has no idea that this will also be his fate – looks at the player spy, mimicking death, and notices that their coats are similar colours. His face clouds with a momentary almost-understanding. Then he shakes his head to clear the thought, saying: “No, I don’t know you, do I? Yes, I’m afraid you’re quite wrong. You must have mistaken me for someone else.”

Elsewhere, the production is anything but quiet. The players are done up like circus clowns, bringing on their own instruments. David Haig threatens to steal the show as their irrepressible cockney leader, intimating that even his tragedies can have a happy ending, if you catch his drift. When Rosencrantz asks if the presence of the two of them is enough to put on a show, he replies: “For an audience, disappointing. For voyeurs, about average.” (Incidentally, the jokes about pimping out a boy actor have just about survived five decades of changing tastes, but an enterprising young writer should write the metafiction Get Your Skirt Off, Alfred, featuring the existential ­musings of the poor lad when he’s not being offered as a sex slave to Rosencrantz.)

Special mention should go to Joshua McGuire, who plays Guildenstern with gabby desperation. What initially recommended him to the casting director might have been his height: he is the same size as Daniel Radcliffe, so in scenes with taller actors they look like a matching pair – a surrealist Samwise and Frodo. (McGuire’s demeanour reminds me of a smaller Tom Hollander, which until now I didn’t believe was possible.) But his delivery, too, is pitch-perfect. The play clips along and finishes at two and a half hours, before it would have outstayed its welcome.

The revival is an unlikely success. It has been a decade since I last read the text of Rosencrantz, and I had forgotten that it owes almost as much to Samuel Beckett as it does to Shakespeare: it is, in essence, Waiting for Hamlet. This absurdist style is wildly out of step with current trends in theatre. The overt stageyness of the crosstalk feels as old-fashioned now as the romantic full-dress productions of Shakespeare that it mocks must have done in 1966.

Hamlet is rarely played with ruffs and rounded vowels any more, as Robert Icke’s new production at the Almeida reminds us. Even the Globe (at least until next year) is in the hands of an artistic director who believes in – gasp – artificial lighting and sound.

It feels cruel to praise the Almeida production when it’s sold out except for day seats, but it’s the best Hamlet I have ever seen. For once, I didn’t keep thinking of that line from Blackadder addressed to Pitt the Younger – “Get out, you nauseating adolescent!” – because Andrew Scott’s Dane is driven by anger as much as melancholy, turning on a sixpence into terrifying darkness. (Fans of his role as Moriarty in the BBC’s Sherlock will know what I mean.)

Icke is a director who loves a spectacle, and here there is plenty of hoopla: snatches of pop music, video feeds, a triple-depth stage that allows actors to watch each other without understanding the full story. His Ghost is truly scary, suggesting that he saw Ghostwatch or The Blair Witch Project too early in his childhood. Yet the text still reigns, albeit freshened by decisions such as running the first of the two intervals when Claudius storms out of The Murder of Gonzago. It’s a play within a play, after all, and Stoppard didn’t invent the uneasy relationship between Hamlet’s actors and its audience.

“Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead” will be broadcast live to 700 cinemas on 20 April

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

This article first appeared in the 16 March 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Brexit and the break-up of Britain

Photo: Channel 4
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Who will win Great British Bake Off 2017 based on the contestants’ Twitters

An extremely serious and damning investigation. 

It was morning but the sky was as dark as the night – and the night was as dark as a quite dark rat. He walked in. A real smooth gent with legs for seconds. His pins were draped in the finest boot-cut jeans money could buy, and bad news was written all over his face. “I’m Paul,” he said. “I know”. My hooch ran dry that night – but the conversation never did. By nightfall, it was clear as a see-through rat.   

Some might say that going amateur detective to figure out which contestants win and lose in this year’s Great British Bake Off is spoiling the fun faster than a Baked Alaska left out of the freezer. To those people I’d say: yes. The following article is not fun. It is a serious and intense week-by-week breakdown of who will leave GBBO in 2017. How? Using the contestants’ Twitter and Instagram accounts, of course.

The clues are simple but manifold, like a rat with cousins. They include:

  • The date a contestant signed up for social media (was it during, or after, the competition?)
  • Whether a contestant follows any of the others (indicating they had a chance to bond)
  • A contestant’s personal blog and headshots (has the contestant already snaffled a PR?)
  • Pictures of the contestant's baking.
  • Whether a baker refers to themselves as a “baker” or “contestant” (I still haven’t figured this one out but FOR GOD’S SAKE WATSON, THERE’S SOMETHING IN IT)

Using these and other damning, damning, damning clues, I have broken down the contestants into early leavers, mid-season departures, and finalists. I apologise for what I have done.

Early leavers


Kate appears not to have a Twitter – or at least not one that the other contestants fancy following. This means she likely doesn’t have a book deal on the way, as she’d need to start building her social media presence now. Plus, look at how she’s holding that fork. That’s not how you hold a fork, Kate.

Estimated departure: Week 1


This year’s Bake Off began filming on 30 April and each series has ten episodes, meaning filming ran until at least 9 July. Julia first tweeted on 8 May – a Monday, presumably after a Sunday of filming. Her Instagram shows she baked throughout June and then – aha! – went on holiday. What does this mean? What does anything mean?

Estimated departure: Week 2


James has a swish blog that could indicate a PR pal (and a marketing agency recently followed him on Twitter). That said, after an April and May hiatus, James began tweeting regularly in June – DID HE PERHAPS HAVE A SUDDEN INFLUX OF FREE TIME? No one can say. Except me. I can and I am.

Estimated departure: Week 3


Token-hottie Tom is a real trickster, as a social media-savvy youngster. That said, he tweeted about being distracted at work today, indicating he is still in his old job as opposed to working on his latest range of wooden spoons. His Instagram is suspiciously private and his Twitter sparked into activity in June. What secrets lurk behind that mysteriously hot face? What is he trying to tell me, and only me, at this time?

Estimated departure: Week 4


Peter’s blog is EXCEPTIONALLY swish, but he does work in IT, meaning this isn’t a huge clue about any potential managers. Although Peter’s bakes look as beautiful as the moon itself, he joined Twitter in May and started blogging then too, suggesting he had a wee bit of spare time on his hands. What’s more, his blog says he likes to incorporate coconut as an ingredient in “everything” he bakes, and there is absolutely no bread-baking way Paul Hollywood will stand for that.

Estimated departure: Week 5

Mid-season departures


Stacey’s buns ain’t got it going on. The mum of three only started tweeting today – and this was simply to retweet GBBO’s official announcements. That said, Stacey appears to have cooked a courgette cake on 9 June, indicating she stays in the competition until at least free-from week (or she’s just a massive sadist).

Estimated departure: Week 6


Chris is a tricky one, as he’s already verified on Twitter and was already solidly social media famous before GBBO. The one stinker of a clue he did leave, however, was tweeting about baking a cake without sugar on 5 June. As he was in London on 18 June (a Sunday, and therefore a GBBO filming day) and between the free-from week and this date he tweeted about bread and biscuits (which are traditionally filmed before free-from week in Bake Off history) I suspect he left just before, or slap bang on, Week 7. ARE YOU PROUD NOW, MOTHER?

Estimated departure: Week 7


Flo’s personal motto is “Flo leaves no clues”, or at least I assume it is because truly, the lady doesn’t. She’s the oldest Bake Off contestant ever, meaning we can forgive her for not logging onto the WWWs. I am certain she’ll join Twitter once she realises how many people love her, a bit like Val of seasons past. See you soon, Flo. See you soon.

Estimated departure: Week 8


Liam either left in Week 1 or Week 9 – with 0 percent chance it was any of the weeks in between. The boy is an enigma – a cupcake conundrum, a macaron mystery. His bagel-eyed Twitter profile picture could realistically either be a professional shot OR taken by an A-Level mate with his dad’s camera. He tweeted calling his other contestants “family”, but he also only follows ONE of them on the site. Oh, oh, oh, mysterious boy, I want to get close to you. Move your baking next to mine.

Estimated departure: Week 9



Twitter bios are laden with hidden meanings and Steven Carter-Bailey’s doesn’t disappoint. His bio tells people to tune in “every” (every!) Tuesday and he has started his own hashtag, #StevenGBBO. As he only started tweeting 4 August (indicating he was a busy lil baker before this point) AND his cakes look exceptionally lovely, this boy stinks of finalist.  

(That said, he has never tweeted about bread, meaning he potentially got chucked out on week three, Paul Hollywood’s reckoning.)


Sophie’s Twitter trail is the most revealing of the lot, as the bike-loving baker recently followed a talent agency on the site. This agency represents one of last year’s GBBO bakers who left just before the finale. It’s clear Sophie’s rising faster than some saffron-infused sourdough left overnight in Mary’s proving drawer. Either that or she's bolder than Candice's lipstick. 


Since joining Twitter in April 2017, Yan has been remarkably silent. Does this indicate an early departure? Yes, probably. Despite this, I’m going to put her as a finalist. She looks really nice. 

Amelia Tait is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman.