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Thursday, March 15, 2007

Book Review: Rock ‘n’ Roll by Tom Stoppard

Arcadia by Tom Stoppard is one of my favourite plays, in part because I had to study the hell out of it in unversity and in part because it is one of the first dates that James and I had.

I was excited to see Stoppard’s new play Rock ‘n’ Roll is now published. Rock ‘n’ Roll premiered at the Royal Court Theatre in London, in June 2006.

The cover is a very striking yellow, and the edition that I have includes an introduction from Stoppard. I find the author introductions to plays most fascinating. When I was in school I hated reading any of the extra bits, but now I’m much more interested in the context for the story, what references the author is trying to make, what he or she hopes the reader gets out of the text. The introduction to Rock ‘n’ Roll doesn’t disappoint, and it is a good recap of what was going on in Prague and Cambridge from 1968 to 1990, more directly what effect the Communist regime was having on musicians, philosophers and students.

In case you don’t know Tom Stoppard, he was born in Czechoslovakia in 1937 and moved to England as a child in 1946.

The Amazon copy says:
Catapulted into the front ranks of modern playwrights overnight when Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead opened in London in 1967, he has become recognized as a contemporary comic master, the brilliantly acclaimed author of The Real Inspector Hound, Enter a Free Man, Albert’s Bridge, After Magritte, Travesties, Dirty Linen, Jumpers, New-Found-Land, Night and Day, The Real Thing, Hapgood, Artist Descending a Staircase, Every Good Boy Deserves Favor, Arcadia, The Invention of Love, The Coast of Utopia (Voyage, Shipwreck, and Salvage), and Rock ‘n’ Roll. He has also written a number of screenplays, including The Romantic Englishwoman, Despair, and Brazil.

Rock ‘n’ Roll highlights the moments of friendship and tension between Jan and Max. Jan is a lecturer at Cambridge who returns to Prague just as the Soviet tanks are rolling into the city. He’s a music fan and in addition to a brief history of Czechoslovakia, you get a brief history of The Velvet Underground, Pink Floyd, Syd Barrett, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Lennon, Andy Warhol, and Frank Zappa. Max is a Marxist philosopher with a free-spirited daughter and a Sapphic philosopher wife who is dying from cancer.  Over a 20-year period Rock ‘n’ Roll offers little windows into Jan and Max’s acceptance and resistance to the Communist regime.

The remarkable thing about the play is that it’s heavy in a light way. There’s a sense of bouyancy and humour. In many ways it reminds me of Chekov’s plays, but without the dark, foreboding sense that, as James says, “it’s a godless world and we’re all going to die.”

Rock ‘n’ Roll—a new play by Tom Stoppard—read more on Amazon.ca

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