Tom Stoppard

[PLAYWRIGHT]

“I SUSPECT THAT THE WHOLE TRICK IS TO UNDERMINE THE AUDIENCE’S SECURITY ABOUT WHAT IT THINKS IT KNOWS AT ANY MOMENT. I THINK THAT ONE HAS TO TRY TO DO IT ON THE SMALLEST SCALE AS WELL AS THE LARGEST.”
This interview takes place:
Driving on the highway from London
In deck chairs, watching cricket
After cricket, at tea
Driving on the motorway to London

Tom Stoppard was born in Zlin, Czechoslovakia, in 1937, and came to England in 1946. His major plays include Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead (1966), Jumpers (1972), and Travesties (1974). Every Good Boy Deserves Favour and Professional Foul were first performed in 1977. Night and Day came out in 1978, The Real Thing in 1982, Arcadia in 1993, and The Invention of Love in 1997. His trilogy, The Coast of Utopia—comprising the plays Voyage, Shipwreck, and Salvage—opened in 2002. In 1998, he won an Oscar for Best Screenplay for Shakespeare in Love. He lives in London, and quite likes cricket.

—Adam Thirlwell

*

ADAM THIRLWELL: A comment I love about dialogue in the novel is a moment where Lampedusa is talking about Stendhal. He says that in Stendhal “the fault of so many novels has disappeared, this fault which consists in revealing the soul of the characters through their dialogue…” Whereas in Stendhal, “there is no famous dialogue.” It’s just, “How are you?—I’d like some scrambled eggs please.” And I was thinking this is impossible for a dramatist—if you didn’t reveal the soul of the characters through their dialogue in some way, the play’s going to be impossible.

TOM STOPPARD: Yes, yes. But the power that a play has over its audience, I think, in the end is not in the dialogue. It’s the situation. I’ve always envied playwrights who are knockout situationists—Ayckbourn is, for example. Who probably would be delighted to be bracketed suddenly with Stendhal, but I say this equally as the same compliment: he doesn’t write memorable lines, but you’re absolutely gripped by the situation on stage.

I recognized this very early on, and I’ve become aware that plays of mine which worked better are the ones where the style element just becomes a bonus. But it’s good if you find that your wisecracking people are actually in a situation which has the audience agog, and not really feeding off the style of utterance at all.

*

This interview, along with more than twenty others like it—many appearing in print for the first time—will appear in The Believer Book of Writers Talking to Writers, available in October 2005 from Believer Books.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

To read the full piece, please visit our store to purchase a copy of the magazine.

Adam Thirlwell was born in 1978. His first novel, Politics, was published in 2003; it has been translated into thirty languages. In 2003, Granta magazine placed him on their list of the Best Young British Novelists. He lives in London.

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