I cannot say I am really surprised that Tom Stoppard’s new play, Rock’n’Roll is everything but organic. As other plays by the same author, we are shown a fast succession of vignettes that only make sense in a very generalized way and his characters seem rather puppets for the purpose of making points. The plot outline is very simple – Jan is a Czech student in the 60’s who studies in Cambridge with something like the British Ur-communist intellectual. Back to Prague, Jan only feels like listening to his Pink Floyd LP’s but even if you have a very innocent hobby, a totalitarian State might find a problem with that. The backdrop involves the story of real-life Czech band Plastic People of the Universe, which became a symbol of that country’s campaign for freedom of expression. All that could amount to an interesting and touching play, but the truth is that you are not made to care about these characters and in the end you just admire some high-level acting by Brian Cox and Sinéad Cusack. In the leading role, Rufus Sewell was so hoarse and yodeling that I had a bad time trying to understand his words and I am afraid this spoiled a great deal of the fun to me.
Considering the text’s fragmentary quality, it is difficult to judge the directing’s quality. I could see some effort to give unity and some clever stage contraptions and expert make-up and wigs to help that, but I am afraid that this was a lost cause, except for Cox, Cusack, some interesting if tangential discussions and for a great soundtrack.