Plays 1 - Tom Stoppard

Having read Arcadia and seen Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead, and enjoyed them, I jumped at the chance to pick this up in a charity shop. This volume covers The Real Inspector Hound, After Magritte, Dirty Linen, New-Found-Land, and Dogg's Hamlet, Cahoot's Macbeth.

It's rather interesting to see the path connecting Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to Arcadia. The former is heavy on the wordplay, a bit Beckett, not really driven by plot or people, but really about ideas. Despite what non-scientists say, Arcadia is easy to follow, and has a lot more to do with plot and people, and is still really about ideas. Both feel serious in their own way. What happened in-between?

The plays in this book are, well, playful. If not downright silly. The Real Inspector Hound is a deliberately rubbish murder mystery mixed in with the story of the theatre critics. People love plays about plays. Stoppard views this as paired with After Magritte, which is a rather silly play about people explaining impossibly unlikely situations, with a side-helping of how different people can see the same event differently. Not that deep, but pretty fun.

Dirty Linen/New-Found-Land takes a rather different tack, being about MPs and civil servants in the houses of parliament. The former is about sex-scandals in the houses of parliament, a play of the slightly seaside postcard type (albeit rather knowingly) that feels a bit dated and heavy-handed now. New-Found-Land, dropped in the middle of Dirty Linen, is a rather funny little ode to the US, to celebrate the British naturalization of an American friend.

This pattern of paired plays continues with Dogg's Hamlet, Cahoot's Macbeth which, while taking bits of those Shakespeare plays, is really about the idea of having two languages that overlap in words, but completely diverge in meaning. It feels a little clunky in Dogg's Hamlet, but the reprise in Cahoot's Macbeth works better for me. The latter playlet is a production of Macbeth in someone's living room, as was done under the Soviet regime when unapproved arts were repressed.

There is this theme running throughout the plays of police, inspectors, reports. Perhaps that's just the theme used to select the plays for this volume, so I'm not sure I can read much into it. Compared to Rosencrantz and Arcadia, I wasn't particularly impressed by this lot, but by the end I'd rather warmed up to them. Not everything needs to be a serious masterpiece, sometimes things can just be fun.

Posted 2022-10-09.