Dylan Jones: Even Tom Stoppard, surprised at how his baby has been recieved found it hard to stop smilng


How strange and how sad that we should be surprised by genuine humility in the entertainment world. At the party to celebrate the transfer of Tom Stoppard's seriously wonderful Rock'N'Roll from the Royal Court to the Duke of York's Theatre, Rufus Sewell (who plays the Czech Marxist scholar Jan) seemed overwhelmed by the play's commercial and critical success (it has been reviewed enthusiastically by everyone bar The New Yorker's John Lahr, who said that it lacked emotional depth and empathetic characters).

"The whole thing has been unbelievably amazing, it's like a real phenomenon," said Sewell, without a hint of false humility. Indeed, the play has been such a hit - its success hardly hampered by the coincidental passing of Syd Barrett, who looms large over Rock'N'Roll like a benevolent but distant genie - that Sewell could be forgiven for behaving like a rock star himself.

Even Stoppard has been surprised by the way his baby has been received, and at the after-show party - an unusually friendly affair catering to the likes of Sophie Okonedo, Nicky Haslam, Miriam Margolyes and Maureen Lipman - found it difficult to stop smiling (even though he says he is still not 100 per cent finished with the dialogue). His son Will, who is perhaps his father's greatest ambassador, is overwhelmed by the acclaim. "It's a play that brings a lot of people in because it has a wide appeal," he says. "I'm not someone who goes to the theatre all the time, but I love it."

For those of you who have been living under a stone for the last month or so (and if you have been, I hope you got Mick, Ronnie or Charlie, rather than, say, Bill Wyman), Rock'N'Roll is Stoppard's pin-sharp examination of Czechoslovakia from 1968, when the Soviets moved their tanks in, to 1989, when the Communists resigned. Music is both the catalyst and the metaphor for liberal dissent, and it punctuates the play like artillery fire. Fittingly, for a journey that takes in Pink Floyd, the Beach Boys, Bob Dylan, U2 and Guns N' Roses, the play's denouement includes a Rolling Stones concert in Prague in 1990.

And the play is very good. So good, it appears, that Mick Jagger is now trying to adapt it for the movies. This will present its own problems. Not only will the play have to be substantially re-imagined (most of the play is narrated rather than dramatised), but the talismanic, Messianic qualities of the music will no doubt have to be exaggerated beyond logic. The play is so intimate and the passion feels so real that the music spills out into the audience as though it comes from Jan's own record player (which, on occasions, it does). On screen, it could simply look like one long pop video. With, of course, all the attendant egos intact.

Dylan Jones is the editor of 'GQ'

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