"the gross and scope of my opinion ..." Hamlet I,1.
Thursday, May 28, 2015
THE HARD PROBLEM
Theatre at the Dorfman
funds, a gym-slip baby, neuroscience, the power of coincidence, the
politics of academia.
a lot to pack into 100 minutes, and we haven't really looked at the
Hard Problem: Cartesian dualism, consciousness, the mind/body
not sure I could have attributed it to Stoppard if I hadn't known.
And what if it had landed anonymously on Nick Hytner's desk …
course Stoppard has previous as far as philosophy is concerned.
Jumpers, for one, and, my favourite, Professional Foul, the
television film where philosophers mingle with footballers. Pure
philosophy gets a bit of a bashing in this latest play, and those of
us expecting intellectual showmanship of the calibre of those
classics will be disappointed.
difficulty is that not many of the characters are sympathetic, nor do
they seem to be drawn from life. Is that the writing, the casting or
the direction ? A professor whose idiom includes “one feels” is
not likely to say “haitch” for H. The wittiest thing in Hytner's
production is the Venetian bed.
dialogue often seems like a long tick-list. Teleology, Basel rules,
brain worm [Dicrocoelium
Godel's proof, the
… Characters often end up explaining stuff their listeners must
already know. There's a Pilates instructor to ask the really basic
of Pilates signals a certain laziness, perhaps. Loughborough
there is much to enjoy, and a feast of food for thought. Together
with all the ideas, there are human stories too, for Vera Chuk's
sensitively drawn Bo, and for the central character, Hilary, played
by Olivia Vinall.
is picked from the slush pile to join the prestigious and amply
Institute, though hardly seems qualified. In Vinall's performance she
is touchingly vulnerable [miracle, coincidence and fireworks in her
personal journey], but fails to convince as the academic – she
simply sounds like an actor.
frequent scene changes are covered by solo piano Bach – that most
intellectual of musical forms
– while above the stage a huge hard-wired neuron installation glows
and flashes, the
mind/body problem made kinetic.
witty, clever piece, with enough twists and treats to keep us
entertained. But not vintage Stoppard. If you want that, go back to
Arcadia. Or for a brilliant account of Philosophy of Mind in a
fictional, well-funded department, try David Lodge's “Thinks ...”,
now a play as well as a novel.