Sir Tom Stoppard



  • (Tomas Straussler; 1937 - ) British playwright,born in Czechoslovakia. His ingenious comedies of ideas combine verbal brilliance and structural deftness with a concern for serious moral issues, notably the freedom of the individual.

    As Jews, Stoppard's family fled Czechoslovakia on the day of theGerman invasion and lived briefly in Singapore, Australia, and Indiabefore settling in Britain. Having left school at 17, Stoppard workedin journalism while also beginning to write plays in the late 1950s. In 1966 Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (1966) was produced by the National Theatre at the Old Vic six months after being staged by the Oxford Theatre Group at the Edinburgh Festival fringe. Stoppard won immediate acclaim for this absurdist drama about two minor characters from Hamlet who find no meaning outside their roles in the play. This was followed two years later by a West End production of Enter a Free Man, first performed in 1963 in Hamburg and on British television (as A Walk on the Water).

    The successful one-act comedy The Real Inspector Hound(1968) was a spoof on detective thrillers; during the play two dramacritics in the audience become drawn into the murder mystery theyare reviewing. The comedy Jumpers, presented at the NationalTheatre in 1972 was widely regarded as an intellectual tour deforce; the production featured Michael Hordern as George, theconfused professor of moral philosophy, and Diana Rigg as his wifeDottie, as well as a team of acrobats. Travesties, firstperformed by the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1974, was a dazzlingpiece set in World War I Zürich; the characters include JamesJoyce, Lenin, and the unsophisticated British consular official HenryCarr. The double-bill of the short farces Dirty Linen and NewFound Land (1976) ran for four years.

    Stoppard's play Every Good Boy Deserves Favour (1977),with music by André Previn, was the first play ever to featurea full symphony orchestra as an element of its cast. The plot concerneda political dissident in a Soviet psychiatric hospital. The followingyear saw the production of Night and Day (1978), a defenceof press freedom. The Real Thing (1982) was a tragicomedystarring Felicity Kendal and Tom Conti, the latter playing a dramatistwhose writings contrast with the sorry state of his own marriage.Stoppard's own marriage to the TV personality and doctor, Miriam Stoppard,collapsed some years later following a well-publicized affair withKendal. Hapgood (1988) was a cerebral spy thriller. After afew years of silence, Stoppard produced another major play, Arcadia,in 1993. His most recent works for the stage are The Inventionof Love (1997), about the poet and scholar A. E. Housman, TheCoast of Utopia (2002), an ambitious trilogy about 19th-century Russian revolutionary exiles that proved particularly successful on Broadway, and Rock 'n' Roll (2006), about a dissident rock band in communist Czechoslovakia.

    Other works have included translations of plays by Chekhov, Pirandello,García Lorca, and Václav Havel as well as screenplaysand works for television.