Fifty years ago the then 29-year-old Tom Stoppard had a brilliant success with his clever Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, which has now returned to its original home, The Old Vic, in an excellent production by David Leveaux.

Stoppard’s engaging existential tragicomedy is full of puns and wordplay, a mixture of parody and allegory, which keeps actors and audiences on their toes. You have to concentrate if you want to keep up. The action takes place inside Shakespeare’s Hamlet, observed from the point of view of Hamlet’s university friends, two confused and doomed innocents, who are caught up in events they don’t understand.

Daniel Radcliffe and Joshua McGuire, totally at ease with the verbal gymnastics and repartee, make a good double-act. David Haig enjoys himself hugely as a strolling Player who offers drama and sex – and not necessarily in that order.

Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, excellently revived by James Macdonald at Harold Pinter Theatre, is one of the great American plays of the 20th century. George and Martha have been married for 23 years. He is an unsuccessful history lecturer at a New England university and she is the daughter of the dean. They like nothing better than to spend their evenings hacking each other to pieces. The infighting is as witty as it is vicious as it is vulgar.

Albee’s long night’s journey into day is as cruel as anything in Eugene O’Neill or Strindberg; and as gruelling for the audience as it is for the actors. As Martha, Imelda Staunton, no stranger to emotional marathons, is more than ready to bray. Conleth Hill might be mistaken for her punchbag; but in his quieter key he is more lethal than she is. There are admirable performances, too, from Luke Treadaway and Imogen Poots as the humiliated guests.

Andrew Scott’s brilliant take on Moriarty in the Sherlock Holmes series on television has made lots of people who would not normally go to Shakespeare eager to see his Hamlet at Almeida Theatre. Scott’s softly spoken, conversational Prince immediately has a rapport with the audience and his intelligent, thoughtful performance is gripping. Robert Icke’s modern, intimate, four-hour production, full of original insights, puts the songs of Bob Dylan to good use.

​How to continue reading…

This article appears in the Catholic Herald magazine - to read it in full subscribe to our digital edition from just 30p a week

The Catholic Herald is your essential weekly guide to the Catholic world; latest news, incisive opinion, expert analysis and spiritual reflection