Stoppard's 'last' play asks if humans are capable of good

29th January 2015, Comments 0 comments

Famous for his erudite works blending science, history and literature, Oscar-winning playwright Tom Stoppard addresses some of humanity's most profound questions in what he has said may be his final play.

Its title "The Hard Problem" refers to scientists and philosophers' difficulty in explaining consciousness, and central to the play is whether there is something more than the material world, such as God.

Performed at London's National Theatre, it is the 77-year-old Czech-born British playwright's first stage play since "Rock 'n' Roll" in 2006, and has been sold out months in advance.

The question "Where do thoughts occur?" literally hovered above the set, posed by a brain-shaped mass of wires where lights evoked a neurological scan.

The first scene opens as the main character, Hilary, a student, is belittled by her tutor, Spike, for believing that altruism exists without self-interest.

The play highlights potential examples to counter his argument: a mother's love for her child, or those who take the blame to protect others.

Woven into Hilary's journey is an exploration of selfishness in financial markets and the danger of automated trading in an irrational world.

Stoppard is one of Britain's best known playwrights and received an Oscar for his screenplay for the film "Shakespeare in Love" in 1998, as well as four Tony awards for his Broadway productions.

In an interview in Paris last year, Stoppard said this play could be his last and he might now devote himself to reading books and screenwriting instead.

Audience members at the play's premiere this week were overwhelmingly positive but the reviews were mixed.

- 'Beautiful brainache' -

"I thought the writing was beautiful, it unfolded like a watch, or a clock. It was very cerebral," said filmmaker David Rocksavage, 54.

Box office worker Nadira Hussein, 26, said she enjoyed the play but thought its relationships could have been developed.

"They are talking about consciousness and what it means to be human, but I thought the human side could have been brought out more," Hussein said.

Writer Joe Murphy, 24, praised actress Olivia Vinall's portrayal of Hilary as "startling" and called the play's span of ideas "incredible".

"I think about life. I don't think we as human beings can answer everything and it's beautiful to see on stage someone grappling with that," Murphy said.

Critic Quentin Letts in the Daily Mail called it "brilliant brainache" but The Daily Telegraph's Dominic Cavendish branded it a "major disappointment", while Dominic Maxwell in The Times said Stoppard was "too clever for his own good".

Running until the end of May, the production will be broadcast live in 550 cinemas in Britain on April 16.

© 2015 AFP

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