Below is our preview, which explains the background of the show. Click here to read our Tom Stoppard The Hard Problem review.
Over a decade since his last play at the National and five years after writing The Royal Court's Rock’n’Roll, Tom Stoppard is debuting a new “brain-science” play. This highly anticipated intellectual experience was set to be one the best theatre shows in London, staged in the intimacy of the new Dorfman Theatre (formerly the Cottesloe), but the reviews are in -- and very mixed. Critical reactions range from an impressive four stars to a distinctly disappointed two.
A momentous moment
One of the most celebrated British playwrights, Tom Stoppard delivers a play every four or five years: he chooses a subject matter, usually abstract, heavily researches it and then works out its dramatic possibilities. This time his play’s focus is not on erectile dysfunction as he joked to the Daily Mail but on consciousness and evolutionary biology. It is Stoppard's first stage play at the National Theatre since his trilogy The Coast of Utopia in 2002 and it will be the last show directed by the National Theatre’s head, Nicholas Hytner (Othello, Hamlet, One Man Two Guvnors) before he hands over the reins to Rufus Norris. Securing a Stoppard debut is quite the coup for Hytner's last hurrah; he admits that he has been "nagging" the playwright "twice a year since 2001" to pen a new play for the National.
Science and belief
Famously outspoken on every subject but himself, Stoppard’s work (The Invention of Love, Arcadia, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead) often centres on intellectual and philosophical examination. The Hard Problem is no different. Confronting the tumultuous ground when science meets psychology, it explores the disintegration of our beliefs when we realise that science may not hold all the answers. The play’s title is inspired by Australian philosopher and scientist David Chalmers, a specialist in the philosophy of the mind: he introduced the term "hard problem" in relation to human consciousness.
Stoppard uses the private turmoil of his characters, such as psychology researcher Hilary, to highlight the clash between pure science and the workings of the mind. If there is nothing but matter, what is consciousness?
Actress Olivia Vinall will make her third appearance on stage at the National. Having made her debut under Hytner's direction in Othello, she went on to star in Sam Mendes's acclaimed King Lear. With these weighty Shakespeare tragedies under her belt, Vinall is an exciting choice for a new work. She will star alongside Damien Molony (Being Human, Ripper Street)
The Hard Problem: extended run and more tickets released
Tickets for The Hard Problem sold out in minutes -- hardly surprising for a show that celebrates the meeting of two of the brightest minds in British theatre: Stoppard and Hytner, staged in the most intimate space of the National Theatre. Luckily, for those who missed out on a hot ticket, the run has been extended, with more tickets released at 8:30 am on Thursday 12th February.
N.T Live: The Hard Problem on screen
For those that miss out on tickets, can't get to London, or simply want to relive a masterful performance through the details of the big screen, The Hard Problem will be broadcast live from the Dorfman Theatre on 16 April to over 550 cinemas across the UK. When Culture Whisper caught up with lead actress Olivia Vinall for an interview, she confessed that it was prospect of performing for the cameras that made her most nervous: "the fact that it’s going out live, recorded, people can play it back… it’s permanent… what if your costume breaks?". For information about N.TLive and to book, click here.
|What||The Hard Problem, National Theatre|
|Where||National Theatre, South Bank, London, SE1 9PX | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Waterloo (underground)|
21 Feb 15 – 27 May 15, 7:30 PM – 9:00 PM
|Website||Click here for more information and to book via the National Theatre|