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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Tabard Theatre   Autumn 2012

It takes admirable one might even say foolhardy ambition for a small above-a-pub theatre to take on one of Tom Stoppard's most challenging plays, and so even less-than-complete success is to be applauded. 

Director Madeleine Loftin and her cast deliver most of the laughs and some of the deep thought, and if they miss out on much of the play's seriousness and human emotion well, so did the legendary original National Theatre production of 1972. (It took an extraordinary 2003 NT revival to find all the real riches obscured by Stoppard's signature verbal razzle-dazzle.) 

In a university where athletic ability evidently counts more than academic qualifications, there's been a murder in the Philosophy Department's acrobatic team. There's also been a murder among astronauts on the moon, a political coup at home, and a singer's career ended because she can no longer believe in June-moon songs.

In the middle of all this, the one sincere philosopher on the faculty (improbably married to the singer) is struggling with a lecture that will provide some logical basis for his belief in both God and good. 

In true Stoppard fashion, there's a lot of punning and wordplay, a lot of comic juxtaposition of moral talk and immoral action, and so much vying for us to keep up with that the play seems in constant danger of flying apart in all directions. 

This Tabard production tries to keep it together by focussing on philosopher George, pushing everything else to the periphery, and in the process putting an additional burden on actor Toby Eddington, who already has to contend with at least 60% of all the words in the play, most of them in monologue without even someone else to bounce off. 

Eddington does remarkably well, though he does have to refer repeatedly to his script, cannily disguised as the character's lecture notes, and the interruptions do break the rhythm and flow of his speeches. So Stoppard's logic, already a challenge for audiences to follow, can break down, and our sympathy for the actor can distract from the sense of how much this proof means to the character. 

Meanwhile Emily Shaw as the disillusioned singer captures her fragility and the brittle shell she creates to hide it, but not the yearning for romance (surely meant to be a parallel to George's need for God and good) behind it. 

The supporting cast are all adequate, and director Loftin and designer Christopher Hone succeed in squeezing this big play onto a postage-stamp-sized stage without obvious cramping. 

When productions with far more resources have been unable to capture much more of the play than this one does, its partial achievement is nothing to disdain, and partially-achieved Stoppard, especially when it's the funny part, is more than many other playwrights offer.

Gerald Berkowitz

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