NT Live Cinema one-off
The Hard Problem
By Tom Stoppard
At the Ritzy Picturehouse, Brixton
of the NT production in the Dorfman Theatre,
London SE1 9PX
Running: 1hr 40 mins without interval
TICKETS 020 7452 3000
In person: Mon– Sat, 9.30am-8pm
Review: by Carole Woddis of NT Live performance seen April 16, 2015:
Running to keep up makes keeping engaged tricky
NT Live is a great idea. It spreads the word; it increases audiences exponentially. But it is a cruel medium, for all that. Up close and personal, the camera, as we know, can be merciless highlighting the difficulty for actors of trying to perform a hideous balancing act of playing subtle for the camera and broader for your theatre audience.
How many performers can square that circle? Not many. I can think of one who stands out, equally at home on stage or film. Nicola Walker, the mother in the NT’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, the Young Vic’s A View from the Bridge and BBC tv’s Last Tango in Halifax.
In Tom Stoppard’s latest (which opened in January and runs to the end of May), it falls to the young and comparatively unknown Olivia Vinall to carry the weight of his exploration into the nature of human consciousness.
On stage for most of its 100 minutes, Vinall, playing Hilary, a young psychology researcher whose intellectual precocity sits uneasily with her reproductive determinants rattles through Stoppard’s mathematical/scientific text with all the aplomb of a veteran but without sometimes stopping to make clear to us lesser mortals its more nuanced meanings. Bearing a passing resemblance to Carey Mulligan, the camera, too, unkindly reflects her tendency to an archness in delivery I’m sure not intended or even noticeable in the theatre auditorium.
As for the play, unlike Michael Frayn’s Copenhagen which also dealt with mathematical and psychological uncertainties, here I often felt I was running on parallel lines without being able to engage in the characters or the argument Stoppard is clearly having with himself: to spell out, with typically brilliant scientific flair but often deadweight dramaturgy, the differentiation between a computer and the human brain’s ability to sense, to imagine, to dream etc.
The Hard Problem isn’t so much a drama as a series of expositional launch pads and talking heads. Despite its interesting female perspective (schoolgirl pregnancy, adoption and for some reason, lesbian attraction) and Nick Hytner’s elegant contrapuntal production which places the music of Bach alongside Bob Crowley’s fizzing neuro-transmitters design, it succeeds as artifice but hardly as emotional enlightenment.
The Hard Problem:
by Tom Stoppard
Spike: Damien Molony
Hilary: Olivia Vinall
Amal: Parth Thakerar
Leo: Jonathan Coy
Julia: Rosie Hilal
Ursula: Lucy Robinson
Jerry: Anthony Calf
Cathy: Daisy Jacob
Bo: Vera Chok
Elaine, on film: Kristin Atherton
Pianist: Benjamin Powell
Director: Nicholas Hytner
Designer: Bob Crowley
Lighting Designer: Mark Henderson
Sound Designer: Paul Arditti
Music: J. S Bach
Arranged by: Matthew Scott
Company Voice Work: Jeannette Nelson
World premiere of The Hard Problem in the Dorfman Theatre, London, Jan 28, 2015; running to May 27, 2015.