Monday, October 09, 2006

Czech please!

If you see one thing at the theatre this year (and that's about all I'll see), you could do far worse than Tom Stoppard's excellent 'RocknRoll' at London's Duke of York's theatre.

I saw the play on Saturday evening and, despite having possibly the worst seat in the house (far stage right in the second row of the Royal Circle), I sat mesmerised by the content, performances and atmosphere that conjured up both Czechoslovakia and the Cambridge University set from 1968 to the early '90s.

The play is high on intellectual content and it takes stamina to stay the course as Jan's life unfolds against the panorama of increasingly repressive Prague on one hand, and the slow diminishment of Cambridge Don Max Morrow's hard line commitment to communism.

Max demonstrates how easy it is to be an intellectual communist in Cambridge, while Jan's slide from philosophy lecturer to prison and parasite balances Max's idealism with the reality of being the square peg in the totalitarian round holes.

David Calder is superb as Max and operates in high falutin' company, as Sinead Cusack and Rufus Sewall, as Morrow's wife Eleanor (and then daughter, Esme) and her Czech mate Jan, deliver performances of supreme quality.

Stoppard's handling of the complexities of communist idealism v reality coupled with intellectual versus cultural dissidence is incredibly adept - bolstered no doubt by Trevor Nunn's deft production. And it's a production literally underscored by the music of the title.

At one level, the play's something of an homage to Syd Barrett and the music of the Floyd, Stones and Grateful Dead - as well as Prague's own Plastic People - drives the action relentlessly to its life-affirming denouement.

The coruscating riffs are well timed to provide a change of pace from a dense script - but frankly the play flew by and I left the theatre entirely sated.....and ready for a late supper washed down with a large beer - Czech of course.

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