Following the hype of new play The Hard Problem, Tom Stoppard's espionage drama Hapgood is revived at the Hampstead Theatre to compelling effect. It might not be as heart-hammeringly tense as a spy movie, but this slick, eloquent production exhibits all that is powerful about a Stoppard play.
Knighted for his services to drama and lauded with countless trophies and awards, Stoppard is widely regarded as the closest thing we have to a living Shakespeare. His most famous plays include Arcadia, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead and The Real Inspector Hound.
Set in 1988, Hapgood tells the story of secrecy and subterfuge at the end of the Cold War. When Spy Elizabeth Hapgood masterminds a trap to expose the traitor, she discovers an intricate web of treachery. Lisa Dillion (Cranford, BBC; Private Lives, West End) give an excellent lead performance; smart, fierce, motherly and funny, she elegantly swaps places with her "twin" to much amusement.
Subject to mixed reactions by critics when it premiered in 1988, this Hampstead Theatre revival not only showcases one of the playwright's rarely performed works, but is also testament to Stoppard's ceaseless creativity. He has altered the play slightly since its premiere, reappraising the way his story is told and the way that information flows to the audience: "this wasn't a big change - I adjusted the dialogue on only a page or two - but it was important." It certainly pays off.
From the start it's characteristically intellectual; you'll be sitting up very straight in your seat to follow the plot, even straighter when the weighty discussion of atoms and quantum theories starts (a motif that seems to permeate plays about the Cold War - as the RSC's Oppenheimer used something similar). As the Physicist announces "atoms are cathedrals", and the wordplay and metaphor they have inspired in Hapgood is deeply impressive, though at times the energy becomes clouded by the lofty ideas. Yet, whilst the subterfuge and mystery thicken, the warmth and wit of the dialogue prevent us from being lost in the cerebral clout, winding us in.
Following the success of Drawing the Line and 55 Days, and with his extensive experience at the National Theatre, multi-award-winning director Howard Davies has returned to Hampstead Theatre to direct this Stoppard revival. The switches between the suspects are extremely slick, keeping us guessing right until the very end. Video screens lining the back of the stage add to the sense of espionage, conveying the presence of observed action beyond the minimalist set.
For Stoppard fans, a chance to see this lesser known play and the first of his to appear at the Hampstead shouldn't be missed.
|What||Hapgood Review, Hampstead Theatre|
Eton Avenue, Swiss Cottage, London, NW3 3EU | MAP
|Nearest tube||Swiss Cottage (underground)|
04 Dec 15 – 16 Jan 16, 7:30 PM – 9:30 PM
|Price||£10 - £35|
|Website||Click here to book via Hampstead Theatre|