Stoppard wrote the play at the request of composer and conductor Andre Previn, who subsequently provided the music for the piece and directed the London Symphony Orchestra in the original production, which featured a cast including Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart (who will soon be sharing a stage again in Waiting for Godot on tour and at the Theatre Royal Haymarket).
The action concerns a dissident, Alexander Ivanov, who is locked up in an asylum with a real lunatic (also called Ivanov) who thinks he’s surrounded by an orchestra. Punchdrunk’s Felix Barrett and NT associate director Tom Morris direct the co-production with Southbank Sinfonia orchestra, which stars Toby Jones as Ivanov and Joseph Millson as Alexander. The cast also features Bryony Hannah, Dan Stevens, Alan Williams and Bronagh Gallagher.
Critical opinion ranged from the indifferent to the ecstatic – with most in the former camp highlighting the plays “dated” political agenda as a primary bone of contention. However, there was high praise for the “bravura” of Barrett and Morris' direction, as well as the “perfect pitch” of principal cast members Toby Jones, Joseph Millson and Dan Stevens. Less eulogistic were comments regarding the casting of Bryony Hannah as Sacha – with some perceiving it as an unwelcome layer of confusion in a play notorious for its “abiding strangeness”.
- by Theo Bosanquet