A reviews round-up for Hampstead Theatre’s new production of Tom Stoppard play Rock ‘n’ Roll.
Rock ‘n’ Roll stars Olivier Award-winner Nancy Carroll (The Moderate Soprano; After The Dance) as Eleanor, Jacob Fortune-Lloyd (The Queen’s Gambit; Bodies) as Jan, and Olivier Award-winner Nathaniel Parker (The Inspector Lynley Mysteries; Wolf Hall) as Max.
The company is completed by Hasan Dixon, Phoebe Horn, Anna Krippa, Georgia Landers, Emily Mytton, Brenock O’Connor and Colin Tierney.
Directed by multi-award winner Nina Raine (Bach & Sons, Tribes, Longing), Tom Stoppard’s acclaimed play explores the themes of liberty, rebellion and identity through the lens of rock music and its impact on the political and cultural landscape of both England and Czechoslovakia from 1968 to 1990.
Rock ‘n’ Roll is now playing at Hampstead Theatre until 27 January 2024.
Read reviews from the Telegraph, the Evening Standard and more, with further reviews to be added.
Book Rock ‘n’ Roll tickets at Hampstead Theatre London
Rock 'n' Roll reviews
"A stunning revival shows Tom Stoppard at his best"
"Tom Stoppard’s wild-at-heart account of the collapse of communism in his home country is an epic wrapped in a love story, a passionate debate about individualism versus collectivism contained in a celebration of rock’n’roll."
"Seventeen years after the Royal Court premiere, Nina Raine’s poised, intelligent production reveals again that this impassioned, linguistically agile investigation into the crushing of personal liberties represents Stoppard at his best."
"The politics are beautifully offset by the story of Jan’s friendship with Max’s daughter, Esme, whose older incarnation is played with wit and sensitivity in a tour de force performance by Nancy Carroll. This is an evening as dazzling as it’s profound, a reminder that when Stoppard is on form he’s unbeatable."
"A lusty, messy and exuberant revival"
"Directed with clarity and verve, the play rolls through eras quite naturally with bursts of music"
"One would never accuse Stoppard of being a hippy, but there is something about this play – getting its first major London revival from director Nina Raine – that argues for the life-affirming music of the human soul over any intellectual orthodoxy."
"Stoppard clashes together multiple ideas in this lusty, messy, exuberant play, allowing almost every character to hang themselves on the ropes of their moral confusion while largely withholding judgement."
"Raine, directing with clarity and verve, allows the play to roll through the years quite naturally, with bursts of music – Pink Floyd, the Velvet Underground, U2, the play’s residing spirit Syd Barrett – accompanying each leisurely scene change."
"Affecting revival of Tom Stoppard’s latterday classic set between Czechoslovakia’s twentieth-century revolutions"
"No one writes plays quite like Tom Stoppard, as Nina Raine’s revival of 2006’s ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll’ reminds us. They demand the same close attention, philosophically and theoretically, as Shakespeare. But the sweep of their intellectual terrain can draw you in as surely as something more overtly emotional."
"As Jan, Fortune-Lloyd captures his character’s younger confidence in a way that seems naïve but not glib; and he ages convincingly into a more cautious, but still hopeful older man. Parker has the trickier job of giving us a man who only really changes with frailty."
"Raine finds the vulnerability in the long scenes of people arguing about ideologies. Her decision to show the characters dancing to the music in the twilight lighting of scene changes is cathartic."
"Some rip-roaring Stoppard writing but can we crank the volume up?"
"The revival of a big, weird, fascinating play suppresses more than it ignites"
"When Rock ‘N’ Roll premiered at the Royal Court in 2006 it seemed to pull together all the ideas that have ever preoccupied Tom Stoppard, from free speech and music to Sappho and the nature of existence. Now, 17 years later, Nina Raine’s revival reveals a play that’s prescient – how could it not be, the amount Stoppard stuffs into it – but also dated. In politics, as in everything else since 2006, the world’s swirled around a few times."
"What makes it all worth it is the enduring quality of some of the writing. There are moments where Stoppard settles in and lets rip: big battling speeches about politics and humanity and all that good stuff. Zinging lines. Even emotion, bucking the received wisdom about Stoppard’s plays that head always beats heart."
"... the play itself seems similarly trapped by its own production, a constraining revival, rather than one that liberates the play."
"Self-indulgent piece packed with fascinating ideas"
"Timely revival of Tom Stoppard’s 2006 essay about the intersections of pop culture and political ideology"
"Part trenchant political-history lecture, part slow-burning romantic comedy, Tom Stoppard’s 2006 drama is a sprawling, self-indulgent piece packed with fascinating ideas."
"Director Nina Raine’s busy but uncluttered staging keeps the focus firmly on Stoppard’s dense, witty text."
"Nancy Carroll gives a superbly nuanced performance in dual roles as Max’s wife Eleanor and later, as her grown-up daughter Esme. Carroll skilfully conveys both women’s many similarities while keeping their characterisations utterly distinct."
"Music, so central to the story, could play a bigger role in the production. Sound designer Tingying Dong provides a suitably rocky soundtrack featuring snippets of classic tracks"
"Tom Stoppard’s blast from the past"
"Stoppard’s 2006 play asks important ideological questions with typically fizzing wordplay but its growling, feral energy comes too late"
"It is a play of ideas asking important ideological questions: how can you remain a committed Marxist at a time of communist repression? And how is Stalinist repression any different from Nazi fascism? (“Stalin killed more Russians than Hitler,” says Jan). Under the direction of Nina Raine, these questions still resound but they land differently – more nostalgic and perhaps lacking a necessary urgency."
"But there is too much talk and not enough drama. The pacing becomes ever slower over the course of two and a half hours. The cast excel but the characters are not given enough space to gain an emotional hold."