Hapgood- the Director’s Preview

hapgood publicity image

Lisa Thomas introduces Hapgood by Tom Stoppard, our upcoming show running 31 May – 4 June 2022.

Our usual opener – why did you want to direct this particular play?

I was looking for a play to read with a particular group of actors with whom I had had a great experience on another play. This was a pretty good fit in terms of the gender balance of the characters and the types involved. I love spy stories and had become slightly obsessed with them, and the idea of a play that was a spy thriller – but with a female protagonist – was a really exciting prospect. Even though I had been thinking about it in an informal capacity, when it came to submissions I read it again and thought it would be fun to perform it to a larger audience. The context has changed considerably from the post-Cold War era in which I submitted it to one where following the invasion of Ukraine, Russia has become a real bogeyman again.

Why do you think it’s not one of Stoppard’s better-known plays?

It is the epitome of a play where Stoppard uses science – in this case particle physics – to explain aspects of his story. A lot of early audiences apparently found the science too much and the plot overly convoluted. Stoppard himself has always championed Hapgood, although he has been prepared to edit his text to make it more accessible. The 1994 New York production used a text that was trimmed significantly from the original in 1988. I wonder too, that a play which was written just as the Cold War was ending – but is about the relationship between the West and Russia in that era – may not have seemed very relevant once the Berlin Wall had come down.

How much of the plot can you reveal?

The story centres on Elizabeth Hapgood, a top spy chief in British intelligence during the late 1980s. When she discovers that she has a rogue element in her team, she needs to find a way to plug the leak and trap the traitor. Some of it is a classic spy thriller; other parts Stoppard describes through the prism of physics and it is infused with the idea of duality – of twins and the ability to be in more than one place at a time.

What’s been challenging in directing this play?

It’s highly technical – there are multiple scene changes which need to be achieved with minimal time lag and fuss. There’s also lots of ‘spy business’ that needs to have at least some semblance of reality. People talk on radios and in other rooms; characters move from a swimming pool changing room to the zoo and a rugby pitch. Adam Crook, who is doing the sound design, reckons there are more sound cues than he has ever come across. The lead character has interesting and somewhat ambivalent relationships with three of the men in her team. One of these in particular has taken a lot of work to discover exactly how they relate to each other and find a way to perform that truthfully.

Tell us about the characters we’ll meet

Hapgood (Jude Benning) is a classic example of a woman pulled in many directions. A spy chief in MI5, she has a brilliant career and a young son who she worries about and feels she may be failing. We meet three men with whom she works closely: Blair (Jack King) a highly experienced intelligence officer who is a mentor and a friend; Kerner (Alex Johnston), a Russian physicist whom she ‘turned’ and who now works as a spy for the British; and Ridley (Tom Watts), another agent used by Hapgood on numerous occasions but who has become increasingly difficult to control. We also meet Wates (Josiah Phoenix) a CIA agent who is exasperated with continual obfuscation from the British, Maggs (Rob Wallis), Hapgood’s imperturbable secretary; and Merryweather (Calla Cambrey) a super-keen junior agent.

Hapgood runs Tues 31 May – Sat 4 June at the Old Fire Station
Buy your tickets here