The world premiere of Tom Stoppard’s Rock 'n' Roll last night (14 June 2006, previews from 3 June) at the Royal Court garnered as much praise from the critics as it did from the star-studded first night audience (to view our exclusive Whatsonstage.com TV footage, click here).

The epic play spans the recent history of Czechoslovakia between the Prague Spring and the Velvet Revolution - but from the double perspective of Prague, where a rock 'n' roll band came to symbolise resistance to the regime, and the British left, represented by a Communist philosopher at Cambridge. Directed by Trevor Nunn, the play stars Brian Cox, Sinead Cusack and Rufus Sewell.

The overnight critics couldn’t fault Stoppard’s “sensational” new play, which they found both intellectual and uplifting, nor Nunn’s “excellent” premiere production with its well-pitched performances from all the leads and supporting ensemble.

Rock 'n' Roll marks the Royal Court debuts of both Stoppard and Nunn. It runs in Sloane Square, as part of the theatre’s year-long 50th anniversary season, until 15 July 2006 and then moves to the West End’s Duke of York’s Theatre for a limited season from 22 July to 24 September (See News, 18 Apr 2006).

** DON’T MISS our Whatsonstage.com Outing to Rock 'N' Roll on 10 August 2006 - including our EXCLUSIVE post-show Q&A – all for only £25!! - click here for more details! **


  • Michael Coveney on Whatsonstage.com - “No one writes argument, information and good jokes all at once and as well as does Tom Stoppard, and his enthralling, sensational new play, Rock 'n' Roll at the Royal Court is the most moving and autobiographical of his career… Trevor Nunn has presented this fascinating, intelligent and engaging play in one of his very best productions, brilliantly designed by Robert Jones, covering the scene changes with blasts of the greatest rock music of the era – Dylan, the Stones, the Velvets, Pink Floyd – that express meaning beyond words, the dream of liberation in music that both Jan and indeed Havel believe in. The casting is impeccable. Rufus Sewell is a husky-voiced, sympathetic figure of increasing involvement, while Brian Cox is simply majestic as the voice of the old left whose integrity is left intact for once. Alice Eve as the daughter and Nicole Ansari as a feminist flame-carrier for a pessimistic diagnosis of British society are both outstanding.” Coveney concluded: “Rock 'n' Roll is easily the best political and most grown-up play at the Royal Court in living memory. I can hardly wait to read the text and see it again at the earliest opportunity.”

  • Benedict Nightingale in The Times - Nightingale enjoyed the playwright drawing on his roots, noting that “it’s easy to forget that Tom Stoppard was born Czechoslovakian, partly because he uses the English language with matchless bravura, partly because he has written just one television play… about his native country. So what gives his new Rock 'n' Roll special interest is that it’s a thoroughgoing reminder of his origins.” Nightingale reserved particular praise for “a superb performance from Rufus Sewell: now spry, now frantic, now defeated, then quietly, movingly resilient and always the heart of Stoppard’s fascinating play and Trevor Nunn’s finely acted production.” He added: “Towards the end, the play itself seems over-complex and over-busy… But never mind… For him (Stoppard), it’s the spirit of a person that truly counts — and in Rock 'n' Roll, the soul of a nation that matters too.”

  • Michael Billington in the Guardian - In “Trevor Nunn’s excellent production, in which the scenes are spliced with exultant rock …. Brian Cox exudes massive power as the Marxist Max… Rufus Sewell as Jan charts immaculately the character’s gradations from passive observer to disgraced dissident… and Sinead Cusack… and Peter Sullivan… turn in equally strong performances. But the remarkable thing about the play is that it touches on so many themes, registers its lament at the erosion of freedom in our society and yet leaves you cheered by its wit, buoyancy and belief in the human spirit.”

  • Paul Taylor in the Independent - Taylor described “Tom Stoppard's complex and moving new play about the link between rock music, East European dissidence and the fall of Communism…” as “an impressive play, likely to expand in the mind.” He too singled out “the electrically brilliant Rufus Sewell” as “Jan, the character who is like the author's speculative alter-ego, the man Stoppard might have been, had his family returned after the Second World War to Czechoslovakia and ended up living under Communism”. He added: “Rock music matters deeply to the play and to Trevor Nunn's occasionally over-emphatic production… Some of the intellectual debates have a rather rigged ring… I preferred the parts where Stoppard the Romantic asserts himself in ways that are less easy to paraphrase.”

  • Charles Spencer in the Telegraph - "There is an energy, rawness and passion here one doesn't associate with the elegant and witty Stoppard, passages of unbuttoned emotion that go straight to the heart... This new piece smells, well, of sex and drugs and rock and roll. It also feels like an exceptionally personal play, for Stoppard appears to be imagining what his life might have been like had he returned to his native Czechoslovakia after the Second World War, rather than beginning a new life in England... There are some beautiful speeches from Jan in which he describes his love of England, and its robust tradition of freedom, that surely reflect Stoppard's own feelings for his adopted country. But the play sounds a note of caution. At the end, Jan is warned by a fellow Czech that England is no longer what it was, that "they've put something in the water" and it has become a "democracy of obedience"… As always in Stoppard there's a feast of ideas - as well as liberty, there are discussions on the poet Sappho and materialist theories of consciousness - but the ideas are constantly accompanied by both strong emotion and excellent jokes.” He added: “Trevor Nunn's production could do with a sharper pace and a rougher edge, but there are some tremendous performances, most notably from Rufus Sewell as the endearing, rock-addicted, and remarkably Stoppardian Jan, and Sinead Cusack, who plays both a wife and mother dying of cancer… I was tempted to end this review by saying It's only rock'n'roll but I like it. In fact, it's about much more than rock'n'roll, and I love it.”

    - by Caroline Ansdell


    ** DON’T MISS our Whatsonstage.com Outing to Rock 'N' Roll on 10 August 2006 - including our EXCLUSIVE post-show Q&A – all for only £25!! - click here for more details! **