Philosophy in psychedelic mash-up as Sir Tom Stoppard meets Pink Floyd, 40 years on

The play Darkside was commissioned by BBC Radio 2 to mark the 40th anniversary of the band's Dark Side of The Moon album

For 40 years, The Dark Side of The Moon has been considered the crowning achievement of the concept album era.

But now Sir Tom Stoppard has transformed the Pink Floyd classic into a psychedelic mash-up of Kantian philosophy, epic rock and John Prescott soundbites after the playwright accomplished a long-held desire to create an original drama around the band’s landmark recording.

Stoppard, a long-time Floyd fan, whose plays include Arcadia and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, unveiled Darkside, a new work commissioned by Radio 2 to mark the 40th anniversary of the seminal album, which has sold 50 million copies.

Tracks from the album, including 'Money', 'Breathe' and 'Brain Damage', are woven into an hour-long play, featuring Bill Nighy and Rufus Sewell, which draws out the band’s themes of greed, corruption and mental disintegration.

The Independent was invited to join Nick Mason, Pink Floyd’s drummer, at a BBC “happening”, where guests, including Sir Peter Bazalgette, the Arts Council England chairman, donned headphones to allow listeners to fully immerse themselves in the play, which was accompanied by an appropriately “trippy” light show.

Darkside, a return to the absurdism and debates over moral absolutes of Stoppard’s plays such as Jumpers and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, proves to be a dazzling match of high philosophy and Floyd’s own angst-ridden, existential questioning.

A challenge to listeners more familiar with Radio 2 fare such as The Organist Entertains, Darkside follows philosophy student Emily as she encounters a series of “thought experiments” which incorporate debates over utilitarian consequentialism, Kant’s conception of reason and mankind’s inability to spell Nietzsche correctly – all underpinned by Floyd’s mournful, atmospheric soundscapes.

'Money' is accompanied by a satirical balloon debate over which should claim the last parachute between a politician and a banker.

A character called the Fat Man declares “the Green Belt is a success – and we’re going to build on it”, a line initially mangled by John Prescott.

Stoppard, whose 2006 play Rock ‘n’ Roll referenced the late Syd Barrett, also reflects on the mental collapse of Floyd’s lost founder.

As the album reaches its melancholy climax with the songs 'Brain Damage' and 'Eclipse', Emily’s search for an answer to the question “what is the good?” leads to her own mental breakdown.

Side-stepping an overly-literal, narrative adaptation of its source material, as attempted by the 1982 Floyd film The Wall, Darkside is a mind-expanding hour of boiled-down philosophy, sonic experimentation and classic rock, best appreciated through headphones, just as 70s music fans put on their “cans” to ascertain the truths supposedly concealed within Floyd’s concept albums.

Mason was delighted. “I love it,” he said. “But I'm tempted to text Tom and tell him it’s really great - but there was a lot of actors talking over the music.”

Mason, along with Floyd colleagues David Gilmour and Roger Waters had been given an early sight of Stoppard’s script. The drummer said: “His imagery is more abstract. There is a lot of abstraction in the album so it is open to a new interpretation.

“We had a story running about pressure and things that bothered us specifically. At the time we made the record we might have heard of Kantian philosophy. We were properly educated so we knew a bit intellectually but this takes it a bit further on.”

Sir Tom said: “When Dark Side was a new album in 1973, a friend of mine walked into my room where I was working with a copy in his hand and said ‘you really have to do a play about this album’.

“So, when, roughly thirty nine and a half years later, somebody from Radio 2 asked me if I’d like to do some kind of play around the 40th birthday of the Pink Floyd album, it really wasn’t a very difficult decision. It became an important record for so many people. It was an important record for me.”

A rare foray into scripted drama for Radio 2, which now enjoys a record audience of 15 million listeners, Darkside, to be broadcast over the August bank holiday, was the result of a persuasive phone call to the acclaimed playwright by Jeff Smith, the station’s head of music.

Further album adaptations may follow. “We’re always looking at original ideas and ways that would help us enhance the distinctive music and drama content we have on the network,” a Radio 2 spokesman said.

But Mason warned that the rock-to-radio dramatic crossover must have its limits. “If anyone is going to mess with the crown jewels (of concept albums) I think Tom is a very good choice,” he said. “I’m a bit more worried about Led Zeppelin going on The Archers which I understand is the next one.”

Darkside, Radio 2, Bank Holiday Monday August 26, 10pm

Arts and Entertainment
Stewart Lee (Gavin Evans)


Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
Yaphett Kotto with Julius W Harris and Jane Seymour in 1973 Bond movie Live and Let Die

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own