In Depth

The Hard Problem: Tom Stoppard turns out a dud

Stoppard's first play in nine years packed with ideas but 'dramatically a dud', say critics

Tom Stoppard's much-anticipated new play, The Hard Problem, his first for the stage in nine years, has divided the critics as it opens at the National Theatre.

Stoppard, best known for his hit play Arcadia and screenplay for Shakespeare in Love, is sometimes described as Britain's greatest living playwright, but this new work, which explores the relationship between the brain and consciousness, has left many critics cold.

Dominic Cavendish in the Daily Telegraph says: "There's no getting round it: this is a major disappointment." Cavendish says he was hoping for "the same bravura intelligence" as Stoppard's 1993 masterpiece Arcadia, but instead this new work drags and bores. "At times I had to pinch myself that it was written by the great man himself," he says.

Yes, it's a disappointing return from a great playwright, says Dominic Maxwell in The Times. "The Hard Problem is full of fiendishly intelligent people saying fiendishly intelligent things to each other. Dramatically, though, it's a dud."

Paul Taylor in The Independent was also disappointed. "In the best of Stoppard, there's the exhilarating co-existence of high-wire intellect and real depth of feeling," he says. "Here, the emotional life of the play feels somewhat under-nourished."

Taylor admits that, "as always with Stoppard, there is much to ponder" but, "the play hasn't transmuted its research into an emotionally satisfying whole".

Michael Billington in The Guardian is more impressed. "Even if the play occasionally suffers from information overload, it is still a rich, ideas-packed work that offers a defence of goodness whatever its ultimate source." And while Stoppard's play may not solve the hard problem of human consciousness, says Billington, "it offers endless stimulation."

Only the Daily Mail's Quentin Lett's is completely won over, giving The Hard Problem five stars and calling it, "100 minutes of brilliant brain-ache". Letts says the show "succeeds triumphantly", being admirably high-minded "yet not as cryptic as some past Stoppards".

But while the critics may be divided, the public it seems has already made up its mind. The Hard Problem is sold out for months in advance.

Extra performances, to May, go on sale on 12 February, and the play is broadcast in cinemas on 16 April.

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