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Tom Stoppard: What the pandemic reveals about the value of the playwright’s art

‘Leopoldstadt’ was supposed to be Stoppard’s swansong – but even coronavirus hasn’t stopped him, writes Paul Taylor

Wednesday 20 May 2020 00:09 BST
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The dramatist still treads an unfeasibly high wire of intellectual razzle dazzle
The dramatist still treads an unfeasibly high wire of intellectual razzle dazzle (Matt Humphrey)

In this global pandemic, a person with a gambling bug is spoilt for choice. You can be sure, for example, that some enterprising operators will already be taking bets on which West End theatre production will resume business once the all-clear sirens sound, in what will be an inevitably uncertain summons back to the theatre-going fold.

I can’t be alone in thinking that sitting atop the pile of dead certs will be Leopoldstadt, the latest play from Sir Tom Stoppard, the theatrical big-hitter par excellence. Leopoldstadt follows the fate of two haute bourgeois Viennese families, predominantly Jewish though some members have married Catholics, in the first half of the terrible 20th century which accelerated into nightmare. It’s produced by the redoubtable Sonia Friedman and staged by Patrick Marber, author of the indelible Closer (1997), whose prowess as a director has become as electric as his accomplishments as a dramatist. The drive and involvement of this pair betoken a palpable labour of love.

Leopoldstadt enjoys another distinct advantage. Now over 80, Tom Stoppard still treads an unfeasibly high wire of intellectual razzle dazzle while maintaining a rumpled rock-star resemblance to Sir Mick Jagger. There are not many people in this exclusive group – just as there are restrictions to the number of people (24 in the Commonwealth) who can, at any one time, be admitted to the Order of Merit. In 2000, the Queen welcomed Sir Tom to this rarefied enclosure.

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