Review: The Hard Problem by Tom Stoppard (NT Live)

By the time I found out that there was a new Stoppard play at the National Theatre it was about to open and the run was already sold out (not really surprising given it was also staged in the smallest NT auditorium). so when I saw that it was being live streamed and was on at my local cinema, it was too good an opportunity to pass up.

The play itself
The play centres around Hilary, a theistic (I assume Christian) psychologist interested in the eponymous Hard Problem of explaining human consciousness. We first see her as an undergraduate and follow her life through the prism of her career over a decade or so. Although the themes are undeniably interesting, overall I was left troubled by its depiction of research methods (I know, I should leave my work at home!). Some of this is entirely attributable to the requirements of staging a play, so while it jarred at the time I can let it go. There were other areas though where what was presented barely scratched the surface. They may not be black and white, but I felt their handling produced a shade of grey that is at odds with accepted scientific conduct. This isn’t to say that this wasn’t a realistic portrayal of actual practice, more that from the evidence in the play only you would have no way of knowing one way or the other.

The experience
I wasn’t sure what it would be like to see a play on the big screen, but it was much better than I expected; in fact I found myself thinking this play would work well as a TV drama (but would I have thought that if I’d seen the play at the theatre, or was this a consequence of seeing a filmed version?). I think the intimacy of the production and the size of the cast was a factor here – as the action was quite focussed, it suited focused camera-work. But credit to the filming director, who I think did an excellent job.

Random thoughts

  • It is weird not to clap at the end of a play.
  • Rufus Sewell (who was not in the cast but was in an introductory film) is very easy on the eye.
  • I should listen to Bach more often.

Overall verdict
I’m very glad to have had the opportunity to see this, and particularly with the original cast in the original staging, but my overriding impression is one of unease. Still, it is good to be made to think.

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