Since I started writing about theatre in 1996, I’ve had the privilege of attending four world premieres of Tom Stoppard plays – well, actually, six if you break a trilogy into its component parts.
As a very fledging correspondent, I was totally mystified by the Greek and Latin lessons of The Invention of Love, at the National’s Cottesloe in 1997; more seasoned and bum-numbingly impressed by the nine-hour, back-to-back showing of The Coast of Utopia‘s Voyage, Shipwreck and Salvage, at the National’s Olivier in 2002 (and also a little starstuck being sat next to Richard Eyre for the day); and totally rocked by the power of politics and music (and Rufus Sewell) in Rock ‘n’ Roll, at the Royal Court in 2006. And, now in 2015, The Hard Problem…
During the intervening years, I’ve also seen wonderful revivals of Stoppard’s The Real Thing (twice, at the Donmar and Old Vic), Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Jumpers and The Real Inspector Hound, plus his translations of The Seagull and Henry IV, and of course, his films, including Shakespeare in Love.
So, while I’m still no expert, I’ve done my time. I absolutely understand why Stoppard is dubbed by many as our “greatest living playwright” – even if I think the label does a disservice to David Hare, Caryl Churchill, Howard Brenton, Michael Frayn and others of that generation – and, after nearly two decades in the industry, I still consider it enormous privilege to have been on hand for the latest (last?) Stoppard premiere last night (28 January 2015) at the National Theatre.
It felt more personally momentous being back in the Cottesloe (now the Dorfman), where I saw my first Stoppard 18 years ago, and it being the last production helmed by outgoing artistic director Nicholas Hytner, who steps down in March after an extraordinary 12 years of pioneering successes.
— Terri Paddock (@TerriPaddock) January 28, 2015
Oh, how I wish I could say I loved The Hard Problem as much as the occasion warranted, I wish I could say that it matched or exceeded my other Stoppard experiences. Unfortunately, like many overnight critics, I was left feeling dramatically disappointed and, a first in my Stoppard-going, intellectually un-stretched. Still, it was an honour being part of the ride.
I’ll leave the more critical analysis to the experts. I’ve included summaries and links to the major overnight reviews below, as well as other recent #goodreads coverage on The Hard Problem, including interviews with Stoppard and the production’s Carey-Mulliganesque young star Olivia Vinall, a brainteaser quiz, a playwriting challenge, and several commentaries on the great man’s extraordinary career.
The Hard Problem run in rep at the National’s Dorfman Theatre until 27 May. It’s broadcast to cinemas via NT Live on 16 April 2015.