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The Hard Problem

Coming to the new Stoppard late, I can view it from the perspective of notices that were far from praiseworthy. The general view was that the theories of consciousness (neuro biology v physics) were too opaque and the characters that pronounced them too unsympathetic. I agree with the first, disagree with the second.

As ever with Stoppard play you feel that he is a clever clogs and wants you to know it. However, this is leavened by some amusing dialogue and characterisation. The subject matter is resolving the mystery of consciousness set in the context of the Krohl Institute. Jerry Krohl, a successful hedge fund owner, set up the Institute to examine these theories of consciousness. The central character Hilary (Olivia Vinall) is a academic there and it is her life story of giving birth to a child when 15, an affaire with a immoral lecturer Spike, her application for the job and her career there form the main narrative of the story. I did find her sympathetic and was moved by her anguish over what happened to the child Catherine that was adopted. Even the viciously aggressive Krohl had a tender side with his daughter . Leo (Jonathan Coy) was the rather lazy opportunist head of department that you would expect to find in such a establishment. The cast acted well and Olivia Vinal who ressembled a young Helen Mirren may well have a fine career ahead of her managing the growth of her life well.

The trick to enjoying the play is not to grapple with ideas but to go with the flow. My companion compared it to The Theory of Everything and made the point that my critique of the film that the black hole theory was inadequately explained was untenable if the result is to have a series of ideas which are incomprehensible.

After the play I had a drink with Jonathan Coy whom I have know for nearly 50 years. He said that the cast had to have the more obtuse theories explained to them but it’s the same old criticism of Stoppard. Stoppard left school at 17 to be a journalist so one must admire his erudition, wit and contribution to the theatre. He is a man of the theatre and realised that the play would not stand a longish second act and at 100 minutes is the right length.

About Tim Holford-Smith

Despite running his architectural practice full-time, Tim is a frequent theatre-goer and occasional am-dram producer. More Posts