I went to see the new play at the Library Theatre on Friday, Rock’n’Roll by Tom Stoppard.
It’s about Communism in Czechoslovakia between 1968 and 1990, and Syd Barrett from Pink Floyd, and the relationship between a family in Cambridge and a Czech academic who collects records. I loved it.
Like when I went to see Waltz With Bashir at the Cornerhouse, there was plenty that went over my head, although instead of war in Lebanon, the talk was all about workers’ democracies and spy infiltration. It certainly makes me want to find out more about the whole situation.
Something I did understand however, was the evolving soundtrack, and Jan’s reliance of Western music as a means of escapism. When his records are destroyed by police or Soviet secret service, I almost cried. The guy who plays Jan, Graeme Hawley (apparently he’s been in Coronation Street), was so brilliant. At the end, when he’s united with his love and The Rolling Stones play in Prague after the Velvet Revolution, the fact that you’ve watched him struggle through so much for so long turns it into a hugely emotional moment.
The other main male lead was also perfectly played by Hillton McRae, but Max was more of a stubborn old Marxist; less adaptable. Watching him getting older and seeing the character become more and more redundant and impotent was so sad, especially because my own grandfather is currently going mental and behaving like a little boy again, having been a powerful guy in some circles.
It should be said that the play was very very funny though. I’m probably making you all think it was a proper misery fest.
My favourite line?
Eleanor (Max’s wife, who’s dying of cancer): “Don’t try to sleep with my husband until after I’m dead, or I’ll shove Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance up your rancid cunt.”
My second favourite line?
Max: “Should we lock up our rock stars or treat them like Gods? It’s hard to know…”
This last line was resonant because Jan’s favourite band are The Plastic People Of The Universe, who are consistently censored and whose fans are attacked by Soviet forces. And then there’s Syd Barrett, who is only seen at the very start of the play, as a young man, but who strikes up a friendship with Max and Eleanor’s grand-daughter as he retreats further and further into himself. I was just looking at reviews from the earliest performances of the play in 2006, and Syd died during the first run.
The soundtrack is flawless of course. As well as “The Plastics”, there is plenty of Pink Floyd and The Velvet Underground (who they sound just like) all the way up to Guns N’ Roses. The staging had been worked out so album covers from Jan’s collection were projected onto various areas as scenery was changed.
Now that the government are dishing out free tickets to people under 26, I might even go to see it again, not least because when Jan is released from prison in the 70s, he is driven to a bakery and ends up working there for twelve years.
At this point, I was like OMG I HAVE TO WORK IN A BAKERY TOO, EXCEPT IT IS THE FORCES OF CAPITALISM THAT TWIST MY ARM. TOM STOPPARD WROTE THIS PLAY FOR ME.