Stoppard’s Rock ‘n’ Roll

plastic_people.jpgPossibly the finest play in London at the moment is Tom Stoppard’s Rock ‘n’ Roll at the Duke of York’s Theatre. On paper it’s the kind of thing that gets me giddy as a schoolgirl anyway – Eastern Europe, music as resistance, music as life, Rufus Sewell – but it doesn’t disappoint on any of these or other levels. And the first time I’ve left a theatre vowing to buy a copy of the script as soon as I can. Fortunately they were available in the foyer on the way out.

A couple of extracts that rang through me all night. The first is between Jan (Sewell) and his friend Ferdinand (Peter Sullivan):

F: You’re a political imbecile. There’s no leverage in asking people to come out for people people don’t give a shit about.

J: Relax, Ferdinand. […] Should I put on a record?

F: No, let me explain. I don’t believe in cultural hierarchy. Dvorak did his thing, the Plastic People do their thing … I do my thing – fine, the more the merrier and everyone’s welcome. Except that none of us is welcome as things are. Except for Dvorak. But – my point is –

J: I don’t really want to –

F: Who’s going to change things for the rest? Not the ones who just want to be left alone. The Plastics won’t change things so Vaculik and Grusa can publish their books. But we’re putting ourselves on the line for a society where the Plastics can play their music.

J: Excellent point.

F: Fuck you, just answer me one question. You’ve read Havel’s letter to Husak?

J: No.

F: That wasn’t the question. But Havel has written this open letter about what’s gone wrong in Czechoslovakia, the apathy, the spiritual paralysis, the self-destructive tendency of what he calls post-totalitarian –

J: Jesus, Ferdinand! What’s the question?

F: Who’s got the best chance of getting Husak’s attention – Havel or the Plastic People of the Universe?

J: The Plastics.

F: I’ll put it another way. Who’s going to lay bare the ideological contradictions of bureaucratic dictatorship. Us intellectuals, or – ?

J: The Plastics. Why do you think you’re walking around and [Ivan] Jirous [leader of the Plastics] is in gaol?

F: Because he insulted a secret policeman.

J: No, because the policeman insulted him. About his hair. Jirous doesn’t cut his hair. It makes the policeman angry and it ends with Jirous in gaol. But what is the policeman angry about? What difference does long hair make? The policeman is angry about his fear. The policeman’s fear is what makes hin angry. He’s frightened by indifference. Jirous doesn’t care. He doesn’t care enough even to cut his hair. The policeman isn’t frightened by dissidents! Why should he be? Policeman love dissidents, like the Inquisition loved heretics. Heretics give meaning to the defenders of the faith. Nobody cares more than a heretic. Your friend Havel cares so much he writes a long letter to Husak. It makes no odds whether it’s a love letter or a protest letter. It means they’re playing on the same board. So Husak can relax, he’s made the rules, it’s his game. The population plays the other way, by agreeing to be bribed by places at university, or an easy ride at work … they care enough to keep their thoughts to themselves, their haircuts give nothing away. But the Plastics don’t care at all. They’re unbribable. They’re coming from somewhere else, from where the Muses come from. They’re not heretics, they’re pagans.

Blackout and ‘It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll’ by the Rolling Stones


And a second, from later in the play, 1987; Jan meets in Prague a British journalist he knows from when he lived in England.

Nigel: I knew you had a disident story if you tried.

Jan: Actually, the Plastic People is not about dissidents.

N: It’s about dissidents. Trust me.

J: (bemused) Okay. […] Listen. Maybe you can write about the album. Foreign journalists never mention the music … only about being symbols of resistance.

N: Yeah … that’s the story, I’m afraid.

Nigel goes.


Probably more to come as things get processed.


3 thoughts on “Stoppard’s Rock ‘n’ Roll

  1. Tim, I’m coming to London in June next year for the ENO Death in Venice with Ian Bostridge. Any chance this play will still be running or is it drawing 23 people and should close in a week?

  2. It’s drawing full houses Henry, but I believe it’s on a strictly limited run until September this year. However, this run was a revival ‘by popular demand’ so who knows. Worth checking nearer the time I’d say.

  3. Thanks for the info. The play sounds very interesting and hopefully it’ll still be open when I get to London. I’m really excited about the ENO DiV and I’m going to Berlin for Zemlinsky’s wonderful Der Traumgorge and will take in this concert as well:

    Berlin Philharmonic
    Pierre Boulez

    Bartók: Four Pieces for Orchestra
    Schoenberg: Five Pieces for Orchestra
    Webern: Six Pieces for Orchestra
    Berg: Three Pieces for Orchestra

    Should be an amazing night in the Philharmonie.

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