A giant brain hangs over the stage. Is the play also going to be way over the audience’s heads?

A giant brain hangs over the stage. Is the play also going to be way over the audience’s heads?

Tanitch at the theatre LogoRobert Tanitch reviews The Hard Problem at National Theatre/Dorfman

Nicholas Hytner takes his farewell as artistic director of the National Theatre with his production of Tom Stoppard’s first play in nine years.

Stoppard, a brilliant player with words and punster supremo, has written two masterpieces, Arcadia and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. He has also written one of the best screenplays about the Cold War, Professional Foul (long overdue for revival), and a play for an orchestra, Every Good Boy Deserves Favour.

Damien Molony - Spike, Olivia Vinall - Hilary in The Hard Problem

Damien Molony, Spike and Olivia Vinall, Hilary

All four are extremely accessible, which is more than you can say for The Hard Problem, an ideas-driven play, rather than a character-driven play, and all about brains and minds.

There are so many ideas, it is difficult to keep up; there will be many theatregoers who will be thinking during the performance that they really ought to buy the text and catch up at home.

How do you explain human Behaviour? Why do we think and behave the way we do?  What is so good about Good? Is goodness an objective thing? Is there such a thing as altruism? Is there only self-interest?

Consciousness must be a strange kind of illusion if you have to be conscious to have it. Are coincidences really coincidences? Some coincidences are more likely than others; and some, as in this play, are very theatrically contrived.

Olivia Vinall - Hilary in The Hard Problem

Olivia Vinall as Hilary

A young psychological researcher (an admirable performance by Olivia Vinall) is mocked for her belief in God and the efficacy of prayer by her lover, who also happens to be her tutor (Damien Molony).

Some of their scenes together are set in bedrooms and this means that the actors can be in a state of undress, a sop, perhaps, for those who may find the play just a bit too cerebral.

The Hard Problem is definitely not for those who leave their brains at home when they go to the theatre.

To learn more about Robert Tanitch and his reviews, click here to go to his website

THE HARD PROBLEM will be broadcast live to over 550 UK cinemas and many more worldwide as part of National Theatre Live on 16 April www.ntlive.com

images credit: Johan Persson