'There is one dramatist who is emotionally conservative and that's Tom Stoppard,' [Billington] says. He points to the unsympathetic portrayal of the Marxist academic in his most recent play, Rock 'n' Roll, and talks about the way Stoppard draws on his experiences as an emigre from eastern Europe and the part the failed Communist project played in the narrative of his life. 'Tom is an articulate, reasoned champion of small-c conservative values.'
Problem is, that doesn't quite square with Billington's review of the play:
Stoppard treats Max's convictions seriously and allows him to score strong debating-points: he is, in fact, the first sympathetic Marxist I can recall in all Stoppard's work.
I've added the emphasis here, obviously, but I'm wondering what accounts for this difference. Is Billington's baseline perception of Stoppard's conservatism already sufficiently far to the right that Max is, by that standard, relatively sympathetic, but that in the larger left/right context, outside Stoppard's ouevre, Max would be considerd unsympathetic? David Cote noticed something similar, though he curiously inverts the point of view, in his recent Time Out NY review:
Worst, [Stoppard] refuses to give Cox’s absurdly doctrinal Communist (an intellectual bully only this playwright could love) his proper comeuppance. Such absence of moral courage causes the work to conservatively fade away, not burn out in a blaze of rock glory.
My take is that Stoppard is wise enough to know that we bring plenty of anti-Soviet baggage to such a play (I mean, I know I do, at least), and that the far more interesting thing to do with an apologist for the Soviet experiment is not to demonize Max but to show his conflict with Jan as the sort Shavian struggle of right against right, or as someone recently put it to me, of justice vs. responsibility.
UPDATE: All right, Rayner's piece isn't that boring, but it certainly does natter on, don't it? If the G hadn't been running so (typically) poorly last night, I wouldn't have finished the piece.
For me the buried gem is David Hare's piss-take on Beckett:
'Of course there's very little theatre which openly argues a hard-right programme,' [Hare] says. 'But the dominant strain in most modern art theatre is fatalistic. The tone of a great deal of avant-garde work, in particular, is of prettified acceptance of life's seemingly inevitable hardships. Some of the most famous playwrights of the past 60 years have reacted to suffering by implying there's not much you can do about it. As Beckett said: "The tears of the world are a constant quantity." The number of playwrights who believe the opposite - that the quantity of the tears is adjustable - is interestingly small.'
I don't even know where to start with that--Peter Hall weakly counters that "you can still make a case for Sam Beckett being, if not of the left, then radical." I think this may be a job for Mr. Hunka.