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Tom Stoppard’s Hapgood at Hampstead Theatre – Review

Lisa Dillon as Hapgood
Lisa Dillon as Hapgood

Tom Stoppard’s 1988 play, Hapgood is another intriguing play of his that dabbles with double-crossing spies and particle physics. Yet, interesting as these ideas may seem, it has the ability to both baffle and enlighten audiences, given its rigid and theory-laden script. Director, Howard Davies has introduced a new production filled with steel cubicles and TV screens to the Hampstead Theatre, and it injects clarity over the spy story more so than the science.

As said by Stoppard, the play’s narrative of Russian and British spies is an analogy of how scientific principles are explored. Though audiences with the knowledge of light and particle theory, or science altogether, may understand Stoppard’s ideas better, those unfamiliar with quantum physics won’t be disappointed. The spy story alone is simply engrossing.

Elizabeth Hapgood or “Mother”, as she is known in the male dominated world of British intelligence, is the major feature of this wave and particle duality. She is also the mother of Joe whose biological father is the Russian spy, Kerner, who leaks information to her.

The suspense in the drama is finding out who the mole is? Is it Hapgood’s patriotic associate Blair, the turbulent field runner Ridley or Hapgood’s ex-Russian lover, Kerner? The relationship between wave and particle is portrayed through twins or “doubleness”, which Stoppard cleverly implements in the dialogue. Often science heavy, the play is also dipped with light humour, which nicely breaks up the scientific thinking.

Alec Newman (Kerner) and Tim McMullan (Blair)
Alec Newman (Kerner) and Tim McMullan (Blair)

Pushing brief cases and throwing towels over cubicle doors in a changing room is a crafty way of opening a play. The anticipation and attempt to figure out what is going on is all part of the thrill in Hapgood, like reading a crime novel or watching a murder case from start to finish. There’s also Hapgood’s twin sister, which thickens the plot further.

Yet, there’s a sentimental side to Hapgood through her motherhood and former relationship with Kerner. There are some touching lines about love, which put her relationship with her source in the spot light.

Lisa Dillion has strong stage presence and portrays an authoritative female secret agent with layers of venerability displayed mostly in the second act. Alec Newman’s portrayal of Kerner is mighty impressive through the way he describes science in an entertaining way.

Tim McMullan is the eponymous English spy with sarcastic humour as Blair, and Gerald Kyd is dynamic as the aggressive and mission crazed Ridley. William Galloway’s video designs and Ashley Martin-Davis’s staging play a massive part in keeping the play cold, logical and regimented.

My only gripe is that the play can go into too much complicated and scientific detail, which may sound off putting, but stick with it. You might find out who the mole is.

3 Star Review

Review by Mary Nguyen

London 1988. The Cold War is approaching its endgame and somebody in spymaster Elizabeth Hapgood’s network is leaking secrets. Is her star Double Agent a Triple? The trap she sets becomes a hall of mirrors in which betrayal is personal and treachery a trick of the light.

Hapgood: Interview with writer Tom Stoppard

Hapgood trailer

Writer – Tom Stoppard, Director – Howard Davies, Designer – Ashley Martin-Davis, Lighting – James Farncombe, Sound – Mike Walker, Composer – Dominic Muldowney, Movement – Scott Ambler, Video Designer – Ian William Galloway, Casting – Juliet Horsley

Wates – Gary Beadle, Maggs – Nick Blakeley, Hapgood – Lisa Dillon, The Russian – Joe Evans, Merryweather – Edward Hancock, Ridley – Gerald Kyd, Blair – Tim Mcmullan, Kerner – Alec Newman, Joe – Adam Cansfield.

A Hampstead Theatre Production
By Tom Stoppard
Directed by Howard Davies
4th December 2015 – 23rd January 2016
Running time is approximately 2 hours and 25 minutes including an interval


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