It was in 1978 that my life changed. Well, to be exact, it didn't so much change, it was more a case of a door, of whose existence I was only dimly aware, suddenly opened. The responsibility lies entirely with that word-wizard, the late Bernard Levin. Through my life I have enjoyed, perhaps 'relished' is a better description, many superb essayists and commentators but none of them ever quite reached the heights seemingly so easily scaled by Levin. Anyway, back in '77/'78 he had been banging on about a new play by a hitherto new playwright which concerned itself with the plight of Russian dissidents - a subject very dear to Levin's liberal (small 'l') heart. The play was Every Good Boy Deserves Favour and the writer was Tom Stoppard. On Levin's urging I went to see it at the Mermaid Theatre. I came out pole-axed! Quite simply, I had never seen so much brilliant wit, inventiveness, imagination and, running deeply through the text, such a sustained and passionate plea for liberty. This, I remember thinking as I stumbled away, electrified, from the Mermaid after the show, this is what theatre should be. My (very) amateurish theatrical career began shortly there-after!
I was very, very, unbelievably lucky to be able to direct three Stoppard plays and I will be forever indebted to the Richmond Shakespeare Society for the opportunities they provided me. The first was 'EGBDF' in which I attempted to pay homage to Stoppard and, by doing my very best, thank him for opening up a new vista in my life. The next play of his I directed was Travesties which, to my joy and amazement, eclipsed even 'EGBDF' in brilliance. It cannot get better than that, I thought - until I directed Arcadia! For me this is Stoppard's very greatest play. Philosophical, scientific, historical and artistic themes twist and wind their way through the fabric of his intricate plot but, for the first time in his writing career to that date, he introduces a tragic love story of exqusite tenderness that can turn your previous tears of laughter at his witty dialogue into real tears of loss.
I am provoked to write all this, partly from 'remembrance of things past', but also for great expectations because this is going to be a Stoppardian autumn. Presumably this is also why Victoria Glendinning conducted an interesting interview with Stoppard published on More Intelligent Life.com which gives you the flavour of this somewhat elusive, elliptical man. Beginning tonight on BBC2 is the first of five episodes of a TV version, scripted by Stoppard, of Parade's End by Ford Maddox Ford. According to the previews, the first episode is fairly quiet being mainly an introduction to the characters. There-after, things take off but, as one perceptive previewer reminded us, Stoppard does not take prisoners amongst his audience. He just assumes that you are as well-read and intelligent as he is. Probably, like me, you are not, but it doesn't matter. If you have a mind that is curious and prepared for intellectual adventure then you may safely place your hand in Stoppard's and he will take you on a journey to remember. In addition, the film version of Anna Karenina, again, scripted by Stoppard, is about to be released into a cinema near you in September.
So, book your cinema seat and set your 'do-flicker-recording-thingie' for 9.00 pm tonight, or whatever, but do NOT under any circs miss any of it - and that's an order!