The Questors present
Rock 'n' Roll
Love, politics and rock music collide in Stoppard's extraordinary epic
It is a question we all ask at some point in our lives. Tom Stoppard ponders the issue in Rock 'n' Roll, an epic story spanning 22 years from the Prague Spring of 1968 to the end of communism in 1990.
What would have happened to the Czech-born playwright if his family had not stayed in England after the Second World War?
He might have ended up like his character Jan, the music-obsessed student whose life is shaped by the political events in his native Czechoslovakia.
Given leave to study at Cambridge University in the 1960s, he returns to his homeland in time to watch Soviet tanks crush the Prague Spring reform movement.
In 1968, the young Stoppard said: "I burn with no causes." Likewise, Jan has little interest in politics, yet finds himself gradually drawn towards a dangerous act of dissent as the secret police seek to stifle artistic freedom.
Meanwhile in Cambridge his former teacher Max, a Marxist don exactly as old as the Russian Revolution, continues to defend the "beautiful idea" of communism while his cancer-stricken wife and free-spirited daughter attempt to break through his barriers of emotional and intellectual obstinacy.
Over the course of twenty years of espionage, love and loss, the lives of Jan and Max spin and intersect until an unexpected reunion forces them to see what is truly worth the fight.
Rock 'n' Roll premiered at the Royal Court Theatre in June 2006 before transferring to the West End. It met with critical acclaim and scooped the Evening Standard award for best play and Critics' Circle award for best new play in 2006.
Michael Billington wrote in the Guardian: "The remarkable thing about the play is that it touches on so many themes, registers its lament at the erosion of freedom in our society and yet leaves you cheered by its wit, buoyancy and belief in the human spirit."
The play, which is receiving its amateur premiere at The Questors, is Stoppard's first major work dealing with the country of his birth.
He was born Tomáš Straüssler in Zl?n, Czechoslovakia in 1937. After the Nazi invasion in 1939, the Straüsslers fled to Singapore and then to India. His mother later married Kenneth Stoppard, a British army major and the family moved to England in 1946.
In spite of his distaste for political commentary in his plays, Stoppard became closely involved with the fight for political and artistic freedom in communist-run Czechoslovakia during the 1970s.
He visited leading members of the Charter 77 civil rights movement including playwright Vaclav Havel, who went on to become the country's president after the fall of communism. The two remain friends and Rock 'n' Roll is dedicated to Havel.
Director Stuart Watson describes the play as: "Stoppard's most significant work since Arcadia." He believes it will appeal not only to confirmed Stoppard-admirers like himself, but also to sceptics.
"It has all the ideas and wordplay that you would expect from Stoppard, but also a humanity and emotional warmth that has deepened in his recent work," he says.
"The soundtrack is great too – The Velvet Underground, Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones – the music is as much at the heart of the show as the dialogue and characters."
This is scintillating theatre, not to be missed.