Tom Stoppard Finds a Dark Side in Brilliant Pink Floyd Radio Play
WhatsOnStage.com, 27 August 2013
In Tom Stoppard's last stage play, 'Rock 'n' Roll' at the Royal Court seven years ago, the Velvet Underground met the Velvet Revolution in a highly personal meditation on rock music and political upheaval in Prague; a second strand unravelled with a philosophy tutor's daughter haunted by the Pan-like ghost of Syd Barrett of Pink Floyd.
Now, in celebration of the 40th anniversary of Pink Floyd's tremendous album, Dark Side Of The Moon - which sold over 50m copies and hung around the top of the charts for 15 years - Stoppard has written an hour-long accompaniment to the Floyd music involving moral philosophy, ecological meltdown, madness, thought waves and the limitations of human happiness.
Broadcast last night on BBC Radio 2 - and you can hear it for seven more days on BBC Radio's iPlayer - 'Darkside' was a wonderfully depressing jeu d'esprit, a sort of 'Wizard of Oz' with word play and classy jokes ("It's a success for the green belt," cried a victorious politician, "and we're going to build on it") in which a philosophy student befriends a boy who has been hit by a runaway train and, in the company of her tutor, an Ethics Man, seeks the answer to various questions.
Such as? Well, what is the secret of life, perhaps; or, do you believe in jugglers you hear on the radio; or, what is the good in the world if kindness is only a form of selfishness and there is no such thing as altruism? You can put all that in your pipe and smoke it, Stoppard seems to be saying, and try not coughing to death.
The dialogue was lightly laced through the music and, this being radio (and Stoppard's a past master, literally, as he started writing for radio in the first place), the action could be compressed and large incidents confined to a phrase. The ice was melting, we were dying of consumption, the weather forecast was a state secret... and Emily, the student, was liberated on the dark side of the moon with all the other lunatics on the grass.
Emily was delightfully spoken by Amaka Okafor, whom I last saw play a very creditable Miranda when she was in the Unicorn Theatre company for a couple of years. And what a cast chipped in around her: Iwan Rheon (Moritz in the British premiere of the musical version of 'Spring Awakening') was the boy, Rufus Sewell (Stoppard's alter ego, an intellectual bouncing Czech, in 'Rock'n'Roll') was the tutor, Adrian Scarborough a stranded Fat Man and Bill Nighy the mysterious wizard, or witch doctor, Mr Antrobus.