We came hoping for a new arcadia and instead ended up with Welwyn Garden City.

The Hard Problem – Dorfman Space @ National Theatre, until 27 May 2015 (Tickets)

This production will be broadcast to cinemas on 16 Aprilthe_hard_problem398.jpg

The ‘hard problem’of the title refers to ‘consciousness’; a concept under assault from a battalion of neuroscientists laying claim to greater and greater certainty in their understanding of brain functionality as something that can be deconstructed to the micro-level of synapses, neurons and neurotransmitters. As neuroscience is in the ascendancy we are left with awkward questions over whether humans are left increasingly shackled by the tyranny of genetic determinism? Where does our freedom of thought – our freedom to act in ways contrary to the principles of evolutionary science – fit into the equation? In essence does the philosophical ‘mind’, as opposed to the functional ‘brain’, exist?

These are fascinating questions and truly weighty topics. It is the sort of subject we have come to expect from Tom Stoppard, who has demonstrated his formidable intelligence on countless occasions over the last forty years and in so doing has contributed some of Britain’s finest plays of the post-war era. This includes two genuine classics in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead and Arcadia and many others that found audacious approaches to create unabashedly literate drama enthused with a wit that refused to bow to the lowest common denominator.

Stoppard is 77 years old and it is his first new play for nine years. So perhaps the hard problem for the audience is reconciling itself to the idea that the play – quite possibly his last – is a bit of a dud. Critical reactions have been mixed and supported by an undercurrent of good will but, on reflection, can anyone seriously challenge the view that this is but a pale imitation of what has come before?

The play suffers primarily from a lack of drama. Things happen, time passes, the plot resorts to rather clichéd contrivances and one comes away finding it very difficult to care about any of it.

<<Continue to full review>>

Rosenstern and Guildenctanz are dead (with apologies to Mr Stoppard)

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

Theatre Royal Haymarket

Booking until 20 August


(Lights Up)
ROSENSTERN: (Tosses a coin, checks the result and repeats) Heads…Heads…Heads…Heads…
GUILDENCRANTZ: (Interrupting) Does it ever feel to you like we’ve done all this before?
ROSENSTERN: How do you mean?
GUILDENCRANTZ: That we’re stuck in a rut. Going through the same things day after day.
ROSENSTERN: (Considering this) We were someone else before.
GUILDENCRANTZ: Yes but that’s history. We were boys back then.
ROSENSTERN: True. (Pause) And now we’re here?
GUILDENCRANTZ: (looking around) Alone…but at least we’re the centre of attention. It’s all about us.
ROSENSTERN:  I thought the play’s the thing?
GUILDENCRANTZ: Oh you can do anything with a play, words are flexible. Anyway people know us now; we’re stars in own right.
ROSENSTERN: We’re recognisable
GUILDENCRANTZ: indistinguishable. You’ve seen us once, you’ve seen us anywhere.
ROSENSTERN: Or everywhere.
GUILDENCRANTZ: See, we’ll fit right in, like we’ve always been there. (Pause) Are you sure we haven’t done this before.
ROSENSTERN: (Tossing a coin) Heads…
GUILDENCRANTZ: This all seems very familiar. (Enter the reviewer). Who are you? We were expecting someone else.
REVIEWER: I think there’s been a misunderstanding, I’m not an actor; I’m supposed to be reviewing the play.
GUILDENCRANTZ: No, no. This does not make any sense at all. You’re not in the script. The audience won’t stand for it.
ROSENSTERN: We don’t have to tell them do we? (Indicating to the reviewer) He can try his best.
GUILDENCRANTZ: It will be a surprise but audiences get used to anything.
REVIEWER: If it remains relevant.
GUILDENCRANTZ: (aghast) relevant. Outrageous
ROSENSTERN: Scandalous
GUILDENCRANTZ: Preposterous. Creations like this are timeless.
GUILDENCRANTZ: We are an exegesis on existentialism.
ROSENSTERN A deconstruction of determinism.
GUILDENCRANTZ: The product of a precocious talent.
ROSENSTERN: (Firmly) Two precocious talents.
REVIEWER: (Frustrated) Yes but do you have anything new to add. Is there a purpose to all this wordplay? Does it go anywhere or is it all, well, just a little bit pretentious.
GUILDENCRANTZ: Pretention? Purpose? (To Rosenstern) Have you ever felt so offended? (To read more click here)