Original cast members of The History Boys, Samuel Barnett and Jamie Parker, are reunited on stage for Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead at Chichester Festival Theatre.
Samuel will play Rosencrantz and Jamie, Guildenstern in Tom Stoppard’s retelling of Hamlet through the eyes of two of its minor characters.
“Jamie and I went for the auditions for both, reading for both parts,” Samuel says, “but we agreed if we were asked that I wanted to be Rosencrantz and he wanted to be Guildenstern. I am not sure why particularly, but now we are doing it, Rosencrantz just feels so right and he is so Guildenstern!
“I suppose the fact that we were a bit of a double act was in our favour. Maybe that was part of why we got the job. We worked together for three years and we know each other so well: we know each other’s timing, we know how the other works. We manage just to bounce off each other.”
As for what the play is all about, now that’s the big question, Samuel says: “On the surface, it’s about these two characters when they are not playing in the story of Hamlet. It’s like Hamlet is happening off stage and every now and again it erupts onto the stage.
“I suppose it is about the nature of identity and who we are and huge, big philosophical questions like that. But at heart it is a comedy. Tom (Stoppard) is a vaudevillian really. He has written Rosencrantz and Guildenstern as an hilarious double act.
“They get confused all the time to the point where they don’t even really know their own names. Because they are characters in Shakespeare, they don’t really have any identity outside of it. Every time the play starts, they come alive.
“It’s in the vein of Six Characters (in Search of an Author by the Italian writer Luigi Pirandello). Tom must have seen it before he wrote this, but it is by no means a copy. But it is about who are these characters without an audience, who are they without observers - about who are we in life if people are not watching us…”
For Samuel, the piece is a chance to return to Chichester where he appeared in the Minerva in the First World War play The Accrington Pals (2002): “It was my first job out of drama school. It was a devastating piece. It still gives me goose bumps! I just had an amazing time and I learnt so much.”
Directed by Trevor Nunn, Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead is at Chichester Festival Theatre until June 11.