The much-anticipated The Hard Problem has received somewhat mixed reviews. I am always nervous when approaching a work by Stoppard as he is so very very clever and intellectual that watching one of his plays can be quite taxing and not an easy night out. But I found this play not only strangely accessible but also in some respects a disappointment: I don't want to give away the ending, but for me it was too neat. Here are some extracts from reviews.
From The Telegraph:
Sir Tom Stoppard’s new play, his first in nine years, is called The Hard Problem – a reference to the difficulty scientists and philosophers have in fathoming the nature of human consciousness. Watching it has left me with a hard problem of my own. I want to salute Stoppard, now 77 and one of our finest living playwrights ... But there’s no getting round it: this is a major disappointment.
From The Observer:
The “hard problem” of the title is the problem of consciousness. Where is it? What is it? Crucially, is “the mind” the same as “the brain”? The joy of the play, his first for nine years, is that it brings this problem to the stage and poses it crisply. The difficulty is that Stoppard then glides away from examining it. Often taxed with being too intellectual as a playwright, he is here not intellectually stringent enough. The great adventurer looks strangely conventional.
From The Guardian:
A rich, ideas-packed work that offers a defence of goodness whatever its ultimate source... Stoppard’s play may not solve the hard problem of human consciousness. But it offers endless stimulation and represents, like so much of his work, a search for absolute values and a belief in the possibility of selfless virtue.
The Hard Problem
Hilary, a young psychology researcher at a brain-science institute, is nursing a private sorrow and a troubling question at work, where psychology and biology meet. If there is nothing but matter, what is consciousness?This is 'the hard problem' which puts Hilary at odds with her colleagues who include her first mentor Spike, her boss Leo and the billionaire founder of the institute, Jerry.
Is the day coming when the computer and the MRI scanner will answer all the questions psychology can ask? Meanwhile Hilary needs a miracle, and she is prepared to pray for one.
Sir Tom Stoppard
Tom Stoppard was born in July 1937 in Czechoslovakia. He fled from the Nazis as a child refugee to Singapore with his parents and brother. When that became a difficult place to be his father sent his family to Australia and, as a doctor, remained where he felt he was needed, but he died 4 years later. In 1946 his family moved to the UK, via time in India, and after studying there Stoppard became a journalist and, in 1960, a playwright.
Stoppard's mother died in 1996. The family had not talked about their history and neither brother knew what had happened to the family left behind in Czechoslovakia. In the early 1990s, with the fall of communism, Stoppard found out that all four of his grandparents had been Jewish and had died in Auschwitz and other camps, along with three of his mother's sisters. He has expressed grief both for a lost father and a missing past, but he has no sense of being a survivor, at whatever remove. "I feel incredibly lucky not to have had to survive or die. It's a conspicuous part of what might be termed a charmed life."
He is a prolific writer whose works include many well-known plays and films - including Shakespeare in Love - and he has received many awards.
His themes are always intellectual and his works include discussions on human rights; censorship; political freedom; linguistics and philosophy.