ROLLING STONE: TOM STOPPARD INTERVIEW
Posted on 8 December 2023.
Posted in: Interviews with cast and creatives
Tom Stoppard on reviving Rock ‘n’ Roll and his future: ‘It feels like I haven’t stopped yet’
BY HANNAH EWENS
“I’m one of human nature’s fans, really. I could’ve been a groupie.” These are the words of 86-year-old Sir Tom Stoppard minutes after taking an afternoon cigarette break outside Hampstead Theatre. He is enthusiastically recounting the time the director Sir Michael Lindsay-Hogg introduced him to another knighted British gentleman of note, Sir Mick Jagger. Subsequently, Stoppard and Jagger became friendly, and in a full-circle moment The Rolling Stones frontman came to the 2006 opening night of Stoppard’s play Rock ’n’ Roll, which features music by The Rolling Stones. “By that time, I was going to see the band’s concerts with the precious access laminate,” Stoppard says with a proud grin.
It’s here at this theatre that Rock ’n’ Roll is to have its first major revival in the UK, at Stoppard’s suggestion and with his supervision. The plot is too amorphous and discursive to successfully recount in full but the decades-spanning political play, broken up with famous rock music songs as interludes, culminates with two characters going to a Rolling Stones concert in Prague in 1990. After most of the action consisting of sparring wordplay between Jan, a young Czech PhD student and rock music fan, who hates the repressive politics playing out in his home country, and his British Marxist professor, Max, who is a communist, this final scene is a welcome one of love, joy and the simple power of live music.
For Stoppard, music has been recreational and inspirational in his life, but not political. “I quite often have been listening only virtually to one track while writing a particular play,” he recalls. “I remember when I wrote a play called Arcadia, I was listening to [The Rolling Stones’] ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’. I played it and played it and played it. I don’t know why it was that one. It was like a drug, really.” Music matters, his work suggests, just maybe not in all the ways that we want it to.
Of all his plays, it feels culturally fitting that this one should get a revival in 2023. The vast majority of mainstream rock music over the past decade has been created for aesthetics and feeling rather than for any real engagement with politics and culture. There’s the fact that one of Rock ’n’ Roll’s themes is that of moral exhibitionism: posturing and demonstrating moral superiority has never been more prevalent than in a social media age. But Stoppard says this play is happening now simply because he wanted it to have another life. “Constantly what one gets is ‘Can you explain why this is still relevant?’ And I don’t give a toss about it being relevant,” he says casually. “It’s not the point for me. Theatre is recreational, it takes all kinds of stuff.” Yes, the play is about politics but it’s also about being human, eroticism, time, the poet Sappho, philosophy. Besides, Stoppard just really loves his play.
Visit Rolling Stone UK HERE to read their full interview with Tom Stoppard
Rock ‘n’ Roll is now playing on the Main Stage until 27 January