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?
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.