Jan begins as an expat PhD student and avid rock fan, treated as a protégé by Brian Cox's Professor Max Morrow, a bullish diehard Communist Party member. But Jan is eager to support Dubcek's reforms and returns to his native land as a journalist. Though naively optimistic and actually more interested in his cherished record collection than political dissidents, Jan nevertheless finds himself frighteningly entangled with the authorities. He is required to act as an informer but starts openly protesting - by signing Charter 77 - when his local heroes, the band The Plastic People of the Universe, are persecuted. Jan is himself kept under surveillance and reduced to menial jobs. Finally, in 1990, he visits the Morrows once more, discussing now-accessible Secret Service files with Max and happily hooking up with his daughter, Sinead Cusack's Esme Morrow, who was a hippy teenager (played by Alice Eve) back in '68. By the by, amongst other subplots, Esme's mother, Eleanor (Cusack in an earlier incarnation), has battled with cancer and, we gather, Pink Floyd's Syd Barrett - who once serenaded Esme like Pan on her garden wall - has become a decrepit figure hounded by Britain's free but shabby press.
Stoppard throws up stacks of ideas here: questions about our intense (or limited) commitment in love, politics and the arts, about ideals and practical realities (likened by Max to a double helix), about decay and renewal and where our identity resides (in mind or body) etc.
Simultaneously, Rock 'n' Roll is a striking exercise in dramatic compaction as well as coda to The Coast Of Utopia, Stoppard's trilogy about pre-Revolutionary Russian radicals. Esme and others - during tutorials on Greek and Latin poetry - talk about lacunae and elisions, and this play is itself structured around gaps. Major political and personal events occur offstage, just slipped in via fleeting conversational comments whether it's Dubcek being ousted, perestroika, Jan's year in prison or Eleanor's death.
The trouble is everything whizzes by so hurriedly that this piece barely get to grips with its manifold ideas. The intellectual discussions can feel both obtrusive and almost garbled, because they are somwhat underdeveloped. Meanwhile, though Robert Jones's revolving set has potentially winning fluidity, the blackouts between each brief scene seem to take up half the evening, offering blasts of the aforementioned rock bands with only loosely relevant lyrics.
That said, the ambitious scope of Rock 'n' Roll is always interesting and Jan's background is intriguingly close to the playwright's, almost as if the latter is imagining how his life might have taken another course. He and Nunn also engagingly combine politics with intimacy, wit and a wonderful closing surge of romance and fresh hope. Though Cox occasionally lapses into his trademark bellowing, he exudes authentic earthiness. Cusack has a very funny and fierce temper as Eleanor and sweet nervousness as Esme, and Sewell's Jan is magnetic, immature but then long-suffering, gentle and ardent.
Thea Sharrock's revival of John Mortimer's autobiographical memory play, A Voyage Round My Father, smacks of slightly saccharine, summertime easy-viewing, with the flashbacks to prep school looking particularly flimsy. But they are anecdotally droll and Derek Jacobi is on top form as the titular, delightfully eccentric yet crushing blind barrister. Joanna David is perfect as his imperturbable wife and Dominic Rowan, after a stiff start as his narrating son, captures a glint of wounded anger under nostalgic devotion.
Last but not least, Lindsay Posner's West End production of Fool For Love, proves to be grippingly feral, darkly funny and nightmarish, with Juliette Lewis and rising star Martin Henderson prowling round their seedy motel room as the dangerous, half-fantasizing and desperately incestuous siblings in Sam Shepard's modern classic. Strongly recommended.
'Rock 'n' Roll' (020 7565 5000) to 15 July; 'A Voyage Round My Father' (0870 060 6624) to 5 August; 'Fool For Love' (0870 8901101) to 9 SeptemberReuse content