first night

Rock 'N' Roll

Charlotte Thomas sees the term's second Stoppard offering.

 Hild Bede Theatre have kicked off their theatrical year with ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll’, by Tom Stoppard, a play spanning two decades and three generations. It portrays the significance of rock and roll music in the wider social politics of Eastern Bloc Czechoslovakia, through the narrative of Jan (portrayed by Jan Globisz).

I won't attempt to analyse the play itself because a) that’s not the point of this review and b) it’s Stoppard. If you tell people you understand Stoppard the first time you see it you’re lying to yourself. Or to them. Or both. What I will say, however, is that directors Ed Wheatley, Zephy Losey and the cast of ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll’ successfully navigated us through a very complex and expansive script, and for this they should be heartily commended. It shows a confidence in one’s own understanding of the script and characters which ensures the audience does not feel completely lost in Stoppard’s intellectual ramblings.

The venue itself, Caedmon Hall, is by no means the most forgiving.  The large space is deceptively tricky to work with in terms of acoustics, and I feel the cast should bear this in mind when delivering their lines, as some tended to get lost in the hall. Similarly, there were times when sound levels were slightly misjudged, meaning we could not quite hear certain cast members over the music.

The music itself was beautifully chosen and really worked to guide the audience through the shifts in era throughout the production. Wheatley, Losey and producer Nina Hudson should be congratulated for this, and Hudson in particular for the simply stunning scenery, set design and costume choices. The setting of each place and time was clearly indicated save a few lapses in detail. I'm not sure an ornate remembrance poppy from the 2010’s would have made it onto the suit of a 70s gentleman, nor would people living in Cambridge be reading the Northern Echo and studying poetry out of a book entitled ‘Legal Studies’. However, these are minor glitches in an otherwise faultless aesthetic.

A general note I would offer the actors in this production is to really think about their character’s moods and motivations in any given scene. All too often the real severity of a situation/relationships between characters were not conveyed due to an underwhelming chemistry with each other and the audience. Having said this, it could be attributed to first night nerves. The more confident the actors become with their lines, the more they can commit to their characters, become truly immersed in them, and successfully convey the ordeals they are going through and the emotions they are experiencing.

In this vein, two standout performances came from Tristan Carman as Max, and Claire Forster as Eleanor. Their confident portrayal of a married couple coping with tragic circumstances was most compelling, and their exchanges with each other slick and thought-provoking. Similarly, the tutorial scene featuring Carman, Forster and Unity Haggard, playing Lenka, was so assured that I was able to relax and really take in the script and think about what it was saying – something sadly lacking in other parts of the production.

Overall, despite these few grumbles, the cast and crew of ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll’ have succeeded in putting on a very tricky production, and for this they should be congratulated. I wish them all the best for the remainder of their run.

13 November 2015

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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