Merrimack Repertory Theatre Blog



Tom Stoppard

I think age is a very high price to pay for maturity. 
– Tom Stoppard

Tom Stoppard was born Tomas Straussler in Zlin, Czechoslovakia, July 3, 1937. Due to the growing danger of a Nazi attack, his family moved to Singapore. In 1941, prior to the Japanese invasion, Stoppard’s father decided to evacuate his wife and two sons to India for safety while he stayed in Singapore, where he died five years later.

Later, Stoppard’s mother Martha married British army officer Kenneth Stoppard changing Tomas’ last name. For the time it was an unlikely marriage between a part Jewish woman and a British man, but Stoppard once wrote “that to be born an Englishman was to have drawn first prize in the lottery of life.” Before they were married they moved Tom and his brother to Bristol, England where he spent the remainder of his childhood. 

Stoppard made the most of the British school system and left at age 17 to begin a career as a journalist. He eventually left the full time job to become a freelance critic and also wrote his first play, A Walk on the Water, which was later produced in 1968 as Enter a Free Man. From September 1962 to April 1963, Stoppard was a London drama critic writing reviews and interviews under the name William Boot.

Stoppard spent much time writing for television and radio as well as theater. Through the 60s he had four of his plays produced while also being published in two short story anthologies. Also in this time he wrote four television scripts and four radio plays. His career-defining work evolved from a one-act play written in 1964, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, performed two years later at the Edinburgh Fringe festival and then at the Old Vic in London. 

One of Stoppard’s most famous works is the screenplay Shakespeare in Love, which won an Academy Award. His more recent plays include The Coast of Utopia, and Rock ‘n’ Roll. Stoppard frequently has a political twist to his plays; The Coast of Utopia for example is a trilogy of plays: Voyage, Shipwreck and Salvage, focusing on the philosophical debates in pre-revolution Russia between 1833 and 1866. Rock ‘n’ Roll, which played at The Huntington Theatre in Boston in 2008, delves deep into the significance of rock and roll in the emergence of the democratic movement in Eastern Bloc Czechoslovakia. This took place between the Prague Spring of 1968 and the Velvet Revolution of 1989, and Stoppard uses this same time period while exploring the movement from two cities, Prague and Cambridge, England. 

Another of Stoppard’s more recent plays is Heroes. Known for adapting plays in the past, Stoppard adapted Heroes from the original French play Le Vent des Peupliers by Gérald Sibleyras. In direct translation the title means The Wind in the Poplars, and Stoppard is quoted saying, “There was a certain amount of anxiety about that because of The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame. That seemed to threaten some kind of confusion.” Stoppard eventually named the play Heroes saying, “If Charles Wood hadn’t written a play called Veterans [in 1972], we would have called it that. But Heroes it is.” 

Heroes is not like Stoppard’s other plays. While scripts like Rock ‘n’ Roll and The Coast of Utopia are politically structured, Heroes exposes a gentle observation of old age, memory and future hope. Through his translation Stoppard offers magnificent wit and choice of drawing and enticing language.

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