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Review: Tom Stoppard's new one, The Hard Problem, Dorfman Theatre

Hard_Problem_poster_notitleLots of excitement about this, the new Tom Stoppard play. Would I love it like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead or feel ambivalent like I do about Arcadia. Well the answer is neither.

Like Arcadia, science is at the heart of this play. The Hard Problem of the title is whether human consciousness can be scientifically explained. Is the brain just a very sophisticated computer or is there something else? 

The story centres on Hilary (Olivia Vinall) a psychology grad embarking on a career at a top brain science institute. However, aside from grappling with the growing emphasis on biological research Hilary is also grappling with her past.

In Arcadia Stoppard weaves a human story around the science and those are the bits I like. The science or rather maths and physics, to be precise, go over my head. In The Hard Problem there is also a human story but it feels tacked on and you can see the plot trajectory from a mile away. It also doesn't help generate any dramatic tension or audience investment when most of the characters are unlikeable.

The discussions around the psychology are interesting but certainly not 100 minutes interesting. In essence The Hard Problem just isn't engaging enough, in fact it's a good job it doesn't have an interval because I'm not sure what would have drawn me back to see the second half.

What I take away from having seen it is the nice light installation above the stage which served as a distraction during the many scene changes and Damien Molony's pecs. Tom Stoppard is obviously very clever and very interested in science and maths but it feels like the interest in this case has smothered good theatre.

Not going to be on my favourites list. Shame. It runs at the Dorfman (nee Cottesloe) at the National Theatre until April 16.


Olivia Vinall was in Othello with Rory Kinnear who was Laertes to Mr W's Hamlet, Bolingbroke to his Richard II and MI6 colleague in Skyfall and the yet to be released Spectre.