The dystopian future of Stoppard's 1972 play – with its Englishmen on the moon and totalitarian Radical Liberal government – is now a rather quaint and not particularly credible alternative past. It is hard now to conceive of a world in which morality and a particular view of the numinous are forever opposed to empiricism and "what is necessary", since our own world is a muddy and confused one which, on both a personal and societal level, constantly mixes and matches these two diametrical stances according to whim or convenience.
Having said that, the foregoing remarks testify that the play still succeeds in making its audience think in broadly philosophical terms... those of us, at least, who last the course: at the matinée performance I attended, the house thinned noticeably at the interval. Longer acquaintance with Stoppard has not much dimmed the dramatic whizz-bangery of its words, images and ideas either, as academic philosophy, acrobatics and murder become metaphors and arenas one for another in an ever-changing mixture. As George Moore, who almost seems to be the last surviving theistic moral philosopher, Malcolm Tierney carries a whiff of defeat from the first, unable to deal with the stratagems of his faculty or to relate meaningfully to his ex-singer wife Dotty (Samantha Spiro, never quite drawing together all the threads of her character). Bill Alexander's production fizzes across Ruari Murchison's double-decker set, but the play's core arguments and sentiments have been superseded by a more complex reality.
Written for The Stage.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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