Monthly Archives: February 2015

The Hard Problem

Hard_Problem_posterThe Hard Problem by Tom Stoppard
at Dorfman Theatre,
National Theatre

21st February 2015

A guest review by Derek Linney

My response to this new play by Tom Stoppard can probably best be summarised by my thoughts on exiting the theatre: “How do you stop audiences leaving a play at the interval?  Answer: Stage it as a single act”.

The “Hard Problem” of the title is that of understanding / explaining human consciousness. Does one subscribe to Cartesian Dualism – in which the brain and the mind are essentially different: the brain being material and the mind, and hence consciousness, being insubstantive in the material sense. Or does one subscribe to Materialism: the mind and brain are one and the same material entity and consciousness is some, as yet unexplained, consequence of the complexity of the brain’s functioning. Both positions have difficulties. How does the dualist explain how thoughts – from the immaterial mind – can be translated into actions, for example the movement of ones arm, in the physical world? Also, how can one explain the emergence of consciousness during the course of evolution: presumably the original simple organisms lacked consciousness but at some stage it must have evolved; though how a non-material mind could emerge is problematical without recourse to an external agent such as God. The materialist, on the other hand, has to explain how consciousness intuitively seems to be a quality that cannot be possessed by a mere automaton – be that a computer or a physical brain.

The promise of The Hard Problem was a play that explored these questions. Instead we were served a hotchpot of declamations – to call them arguments would be stretching the reality of the script – regarding consciousness, morality and altruism, biased scientific research, god and miracles with a dollop of hedge funds and market modelling thrown in. While any of these could have formed the basis for an intelligent, challenging play what we got never went into any depth on any of these questions. By analogy, for Radio 4 fans, it was more like listening to Question Time – with party political representatives proclaiming manifesto points – rather than The Moral Maze – an in depth interactive debate of an issue.

Continue reading The Hard Problem

3 Winters

3Winters Funeral Feast 19903 Winters at the Lyttleton Theatre
14th December, 2014

‘My great-grandmother was a barely literate working-class woman who had no voice in society to express whatever thoughts and desires she had. So I’m writing about what happened to female voices over a century’. Tena Stivicic

‘3 Winters’ continues the international vein of the National Theatre ended 2014. As the title intimates,Croatian writer Tena Stivicic’s ambitious new play spans 1945, 1990 and 2011 in Zagreb with the interplay of seminal events for the Kos family: a homecoming, a funeral and a wedding. All of which made me wish I had done some background reading of Croatian history.

The drama is a slow burn of a Chekhovian nature. An opening scene in 1945 provides the narrative springboard. The year is the birth of Communist Yugoslavia Rose King (Jo Herbert), her husband Alexander (Alex Price) and baby, Masha, together with her mother Monika (Josie Walker) are assigned by Tito’s new government a portion of the prosperous townhouse in which Rose’s mother had been a servant. 1990 reveals the first serious fractures in the Yugoslav federation that would lead to war in the Balkans. Masha (Siobhan Finneran) and her younger sister Dunya are both married. Masha has two daughters of her own, Lucia (Charlotte Beaumont) and Alisa (Bebe Sanders). By 2011, Croatia is on the brink of joining the EU, the family assemble for the wedding of Lucia (Sophie Rundle). Alisa learns that her absent, nouveau-riche brother-in-law has bought the once nationalised house. For the bride this is progress, for her sister it is capitalist greed as he is willing to purchase the house at the expense of other tenants who are forcibly evicted. Continue reading 3 Winters