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Too Stupid for Stoppard?

February 25, 2015

According to playwright Tom Stoppard, his latest effort “The Hard Problem” had to be “dumbed down” four times during previews before a sufficient number of the audience ‘got’ the literary references.

I’ve seen the play. SPOILER ALERT it’s about a young scientist who gets a job at a prestigious banker-funded research institute. The banker has a young adopted daughter. The scientist once gave up her baby from a teenage pregnancy for adoption. Guess the rest. SPOILER ENDS. I guessed the entire plot in the first twenty five minutes, and spent much of the rest wondering how bright the author was. Even “Hollyoaks” has a more inspired story arc.

On the one hand, I understood the scientific and literary references. On the other, I’d actually handed over £50 of my hard-earned cash to watch this piffle. And flashing me with a pert pair of buttocks wasn’t going to distract me from noticing just how thin that investment was.

Though, to be fair, they were very attractive buttocks…

But back to the point.

Most obviously of all, audiences pay your wages. Insulting them is never a sound idea. “Doing A Ratner” is something to fear, never emulate.

Tom Stoppard also forgets that the foundations of knowledge may be solid, but the accumulation on those foundations are ever growing. Even more impressive, that which once was considered exotic becomes commonplace. Franklin, Watson and Crick and Pauling unravelled DNA and Nobel Prizes were awarded for it. Now, a fairly bright high-school kid will explain base-pairings to you without thinking about it.

The same kid will, of course, also be able to cure your computer virus and connect your wifi – though admittedly not know how to move socks from a floor to a wash-basket (that is a bit advanced, after all).

They may think Churchill is a nodding cartoon dog, but they have knowledge which will see them through life. If not a Stoppard play – though in this case, it would have.

What Stoppard values as “general knowledge” is valid, but in this multi-media world with ever growing and faster flowing streams of material to process and understand, it’s increasingly hard for anyone to hold everything so readily to hand.

Yes, it’s sad when “current” displaces such fondly cherished “old” general knowledge – sadder still when that “old” knowledge was denied to someone in the first place. I’m the first to cry “foul” over my own (in)comprehensive education. It’s the cruellest social engineering metered out to anyone who can’t afford to pay or has no opportunity to fully “work the selective” system. Yet you can (as I did) do something about it. Basically realise early that you are being cheated and READ. Nothing that they tell you to, but the stuff those who are actually getting an education are reading. Emulate too the things they do, and you can acquire something worthwhile.

To be told by someone who didn’t receive a “public school” education, yet has done exactly as I did and “educated themselves” that he judges us to be “too think to understand his work” rather smacks of either chronic insecurity or creeping senility.

Theatre can teach, and the fact audiences turn out and pay to hear your ideas is an opportunity to inform and breach that gap.

Audiences are not getting thicker, life is simply getting faster, parameters of knowledge wider. You could use the opportunity to remind them of knowledge that may be on its way to sidelining, ensuring its survival rather than scaring anyone from the source. That would be the truly stupid thing to do…

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