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  1. Wealth
January 20, 2009

Quick, quick, Stoppard

By Spear's

Every Good Boy Deserves Favour felt long, but positively – you were so involved that time seemed to stop.

When we talk of plays ‘dragging’, it usually means some interminably turgid three-hour, three-act melodrama which feels like it might suffocate you. I think we can go some way to reclaiming the word from the jaws of hebetude.

I saw Tom Stoppard’s Every Good Boy Deserves Favour at the National last week. For a play of only 65 minutes, it felt much, much longer, but in a very positive sense – you were so involved that time seemed to stop as you watched. The emotional journey was strong enough to make you forget yourself, and usual watch-watchers were notably captivated.

The play, originally put on in 1977, is in fact a joint venture: Stoppard wrote the words, and Andre Previn wrote the music. This is not simply incidental music: the two characters are in a Soviet ‘hospital’ (i.e. prison), and one has delusions that he is conducting an orchestra. To create the illusion – or rather manufacture the truth – the Southbank Sinfonia is on stage throughout.

There is a constant tension between this true delusion of the mad inmate and the false statements the sane one is encouraged to make so he can be released. The compromise between truth and lies, reality and illusion, is pushed back and forth, and is especially harrowing as the sane one’s son is shown on stage learning axiomatic mathematical truths, which are not subject to motivated shifts in meaning.

It is the particular nature of all of Stoppard’s work – intellectually acrobatic, dramatically involving, a constant spectacle – which keeps you attentive. If you sit there for an hour and it feels like three, that’s no bnad thing.

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