Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, 1967

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, 1967

Tom Stoppard's play 'Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead' takes two minor characters from one of the most performed plays in British theatre, Hamlet, and puts them centre stage. The two of them, bit players in the action of Hamlet, have time on their hands. They hang about at the edges of the drama, occasionally caught up in the action, and forced to play out the destiny written for them.

Stoppard, born Tomas Straussler, of Czech origins, was not quite 30 when 'Rosencrantz' was produced by the National Theatre Company at the Old Vic in 1967, following the success of a student production at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

This photograph from that production has Edward Petherbridge (left) and John Stride as the hapless pair caught up in the workings of fate.

Stoppard's prolific, subsequent output, including Jumpers, Travesties and Arcadia, established his international reputation as a writer of 'serious comedy'. The plays tackle philosophical and scientific ideas, but do so with verbal wit, visual humour and considerable linguistic complexity.