The John Tusa Interviews
Transcript of the John Tusa Interview with Tom Stoppard
Tom Stoppard and I have three things in common. We were born in the same town in Czechoslovakia , called Zlin, just a year apart. Both our fathers worked for the Barter Shoe Company, whose factories and worker states were in Zlin. It's entirely possible that Stoppard's father, a Barter doctor, might have delivered me in the company hospital. Both our families left Czechoslovakia in nineteen thirty nine , for Barter outposts overseas, mine to come to England , Stoppard's to go to Singapore . There the similarities and coincidences end.
Tom Stoppard , Sir Tom Stoppard OM, is Britain 's cleverest playwright. You might add that he is Britain 's funniest clever playwright. It's not just that words and ideas pour out of him, which they do, but there's nothing abstract about the ideas. He expresses these words through characters and in theatrical action, which are vivid, comic creations stretching audiences to the limit and sometimes beyond. It's more than the theatre of ideas, more like the theatre of absurd ideas, or perhaps the theatre of ideas of the absurd.
From nineteen sixty seven when Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead was produced in London and New York , Stoppard has written a stream of plays in almost every medium. Radio an early favourite, television, stage and screen plays such as most recently Shakespeare In Love. All of them relish, juggle with, delight in words, words, words. But the words are always about something. What is it like to be faceless and expendable, as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are? What might it have been like when Dadaism and Leninism lived side by side in Switzerland, and who emerged triumphant as in Travesties? What might it be like if theatre critics were drawn into a murder mystery they were watching on the stage, as in the Real Inspector Hound? And although Stoppard always avoided a certain kind of involvement with the committed political Left, his politics have driven work after work from Professional Foul Onwards in nineteen seventy seven.
Stoppard is not only prolific in his works, he's generous in talking about them. It's only recently that he said, "The older I get, the less I care about self concealment", but he has also warned an interviewer, "I told you, I'm not self analytical". What is also clear is that as he gets older, and he now has his bus pass, his ambition doesn't wane as his imminent trilogy, The Coast of Utopia, about the Russian philosopher and politician Alexander Hertzen at the National Theatre, will no doubt demonstrate.
I want to start with this question of openness. In your early years were you able to protect yourself, perhaps from self revelation, by the sheer ability with words?
I didn't think of it like that, but that's possibly how it operated, but on the whole I was following my inclination. It wasn't a principle or a plot, then as now I wrote the way I wanted to write, the way that appealed to me at the time.
Were you deliberately concealing or just that you didn't see why you should reveal more than you had to?
Well I was shy, I'm still shy, and very timid. As you've just remarked I've begun to care less or become braver or more fatalistic, but first of all I wasn't really interested in my own experience biographically speaking, I wasn't really interested in myself as a source for my plays, though of course all plays have to originate with the author and, if you like, the plays expressed in part my temperament, in part my intellectual interests, and more than anything else I think they expressed the places where I found I could have fun.
And what were those places where you found that you could have fun?
Well as I think you also remarked, it was partly to do with language, er linguistic fun. From as long as, literally as far back as I can remember I've liked puns, word jokes, I can literally recall looking at a comic at the age of six or seven and I remember what I enjoyed and what it was precisely and how the joke worked. Certainly I was receptive to that and it went in very deep and is still occasionally, with unfortunate results, coming out.
But that didn't come from your parents or your stepfather did it, I mean by the sound of it your English stepfather, Kenneth Stoppard , was not the sort of man who did enjoy language or would necessarily have thought that it was the right thing to do, so do you have an idea where it came from?
Well to begin with we mustn't make that sound like a moral judgement. I, I don't think that parentage and environment can have all that much to do with the kind of response I'm talking about, a completely instinctive like or dislike for certain kinds of language literature. I mean I, I wasn't a precocious child, I wasn't a precocious, intellectual, literary child in any way believe me. I mean when I was in my eight to thirteen period I wasn't reading Conrad , I was reading Biggles.
Quite right too. Um, now but the, the, the language and I know one an make too much of this but, but let's try to make something of it, Czech of course isn't even a second language because you never spoke it did you, or only in very, very baby form, but it must be some sort of distant memory at best, some sort of residual resonance of sound intonation?
The family language was Czech until I was about five, and so it's slightly more than baby form, but I honestly have no recollection of these family conversations. I mean presumably I spoke and was spoken to in Czech, but I don't recall it as an experience, in fact probably even when we got to Singapore, by the time we were in Singapore I suspect that English already began to become part of my language and of course the, the moment I went to school in India, I was only six, um...
So you, you were so young it was never a question of abandoning Czech and discovering English, by the time you had English that was the language you had always known?
And why do you, do you have any idea why you discovered in it that it was a language which responded to playfulness, to ingenuity, to, to games?
It's not the sort of thing one does know about oneself. I mean first of all it's not an interesting question when you're that age, you don't even think of it as being a particularly interesting fact about you, it's just part of you as anything else is part of you, as your, the shape of your head is part of you. I was aware that I was a reader. I mean when I got to England I was about eight. I mentioned Biggles but Arthur Ransome was a, a huge passion of mine. I read my first Arthur Ransome book soon after I got to England , and I read him I'm sure, you know, for four years er he was probably my favourite, favourite writer.
Did he incidentally help you to feel how to be English, because I have to say my experience of Arthur Ransome was that I rejected him because I knew that my life in England could never be this ideal English families in the country life? I ran away from Arthur Ransome .
How interesting, I, I wonder why you did that. It didn't, it didn't do that to me at all. I didn't have that kind of life and then again it wasn't that different either. My stepfather was a fanatical angler. Our family holidays were always in countryside, they weren't Lake District because as you may or may not know the Lake District is not a terrific place for angling, but you know we'd be in North Yorkshire, Nidderdale, and in Wales, and messing about by riv..., rivers and streams and lakes and ponds. Yes I would say that, that my brother Peter and I had a life occasionally which wasn't all that different from, from the Ransome kids.
But those are the books that, that, er that gave you something, that certainly gave you a, a, a love of English. Um do you feel that you're in the tradition that is sometimes identified of people who are called non Britons, or at least non Britons by birth, who appear to care for English more than the English do themselves, you can list Sebold, Vikram Seth , Conrad , etcetera, etcetera. Do you feel that you're part of that tradition?
I do, looking back at myself um I would say that I am part of it. I didn't feel I was part of something or anything, um I was just being myself and liking what I liked. But I am now a little ex..., extreme about the English language. I mean just to take a point which, I was going to say which is trivial but of course it's not trivial otherwise I wouldn't think about it or tell you about it, but um every time I, I see who instead of whom in a newspaper it's like a, it's almost like a physical pain and it offends me deeply, it makes me angry, and a few years ago one would occasionally see who instead of whom in that small general newsprint for news stories, that sort of eight point, and now you see it in thirty two point headlines and you think well should I write in about this, and you think no it's, it's all too late, it's all, the pass has been lost.
Yeah but what is that pass, why is that reaction that you have more than just a spasm of ageing pedantry which a lot of us have?
But it's not pedantry, it's a question of something meaning what it means and not meaning something else, and um while it's sometimes the case that it makes no difference to the sense of the sentence in which who is used instead of whom. Mostly if you really understand the English language, the sentence is not saying what the writer thinks it's saying. The sad thing is that it means to the reader what the writer erroneously thinks it means and then you've lost.
I just want to go back to the question of openness and, and identity for, for a moment. Another important part I think of your new openness was the discovery of your Jewishness, which came late in your life. That was in a way forced on you because you, you were told about it, but what difference did the knowledge of your Jewishness, the discovery of your Jewishness make?
It didn't make that much because it wasn't really that sudden. I'd always been aware that I had some Jewishness in me. When we came to England my mother decided that Peter and I, my brother and I, would in some way suffer by being Jewish. She thought perhaps that, you know, we'd be made fun of at, at school when we were eight and nine and ten, or perhaps when we left school getting jobs. She was completely wrong, I never encountered any, anything like that, um I don't mean towards me because people didn't think of me as being Jewish, but towards er Jewish boys at school, she was quite wrong about that. But for one reason or another she drew a line across our lives when we came to England and, well I can't speak for Peter but I, I was perhaps even culpably incurious about it, I just got on with my life, became English as it, as it were, liked it and didn't worry about the past. And then when the Communists fell in Eastern Europe , when, when that, when that whole political scene altered er completely, our relatives er who'd kept quite quiet emerged and, and er of course you know everything became very chatty and happy and there were all kinds of reunions. I went to Zlin for the first time, I mean left Zlin when I was eighteen months old er roughly and I returned to Zlin for the first time, I suppose I was in my fifties, and I found the experience extremely moving.
But did you feel you were in any sense rediscovering something of yourself, did you feel that you understood something about yourself that you hadn't understood before?
No frankly, er I was myself er having a very, very interesting and moving experience.
Sorry, why was it moving therefore?
Because you know you mentioned the possibility that my father even delivered you when you were being born. Well you know I went to the little building which was the hospital where you and I were both born I would think, and I found the, the little house that we lived in as a family, and yes it all came over me like a wave, I, I mean I was extremely moved about the journey my mother had made and how brave she'd been, and it made me think about the death of my father at the hands of the Japanese in a much more acute way when I saw the origin of the journey he'd made. All that was very moving and, and has changed the way I feel about myself.
You said how English you always have been and you were brought up to be English, you felt it. When Kenneth Tynan said, "You must never forget that Stoppard is an émigré", was that a, an Englishman's total misunderstanding of your experience?
It was a judgement he made about my writing. I felt he was entitled to make it.
Mean..., so meaning what, that you didn't write as he thought an English playwright at the time should write?
Perhaps, perhaps so, because he felt that er my subject matter was not the subject matter who'd, as it were someone, somebody who'd, who'd grown out of the soil or the pavements here. He might have imagined that I discovered the English language as though it were a big toy box rather than something that I merely grew into, grew, grew up in. What people tend to underestimate is my capacity for not bothering, not caring, not minding, not being that interested. Er it's pretty awful actually, when I think about it myself I sometimes think I really ought to do better than this.
But why, doesn't that suggest that you know what you are, you know who you are, you know why you do it and anybody else's opinions are just their opinions?
I think that's pretty much it. I've seldom minded other people's opinions, but the other side of that coin is that I've seldom been interested by them, um their opinions about me I mean.
Why did you not go to University when you would have thought you were a natural for it, was it your decision not to go?
It was, I um rather unfairly I took against being educated in that sense. I went to a school, Pokington, which is a, a very agreeable place now and enlightened and all that. Er back in the early fifties I didn't like being there at all I'm afraid, and the idea of, you know, carrying on with books and exams and lectures didn't appeal to me. I didn't know what I wanted to do for a while, but the moment the thought of journalism entered my head I became passionate to be a journalist, and I joined a newspaper in Bristol when I was seventeen and I have to say I loved every moment of it unless I've forgotten the moments I didn't love.
And you don't look back on Uni..., University and say had I gone there I would have learned this or unlearned that or grown up in a, in, in, in a way which might have been of use to me subsequently?
I came to regret it in just those terms er years later. You know, I realised when I was suppose thirty, in my thirty-ish, I realised that I would probably have become part of a kind of network of interesting people whom I liked, and you know they're still with us. Um I felt that I'd gone along a different road and probably missed a lot of education in the best possible sense of the word. Um I may have got a bad third, but I think I would have learned a great deal.
Or you might have ended up as a philosopher?
Well I doubt that. I say that because my hot flushes for this subject or that subject have tended to be just that. I've become for short periods of two or three or four years fascinated, passionately interested by philosophy perhaps for this play, or basic physics for that play. None of the education that I gave myself in areas like that was at any time a chore or a duty, it was always done with relish and enjoyment, but it didn't last and...
I think that is the journalistic character isn't it, you learn enough for the purposes and you're terribly curious and passionate about it at the time, and once you don't need it you move on.
I gained of course as well by not going to University, or rather by entering journalism, because I had the experience of sitting in Law Courts and Coroner's Courts and County Councils and City Councils, and going to amateur drama and flower shows and the whole stratum of life as it's actually lived outside Universities, um was made accessible to me, and I did enjoy the life. I was very thrilled to have words in print.
And not long after that I suppose that it was a natural gravitation to writing plays for radio, and you never stopped writing for, for radio. I wonder what is it particularly about the medium that you like?
Well I think it's fairer to say that um I have continually stopped writing for radio, because the gaps um have been long. To start with I was jolly grateful to be asked to have a go at a short radio play at the time when this happened to me, because you know that was a public. When would this has been, sixty three or four, I did a couple of fifteen minutes radio plays.
But did you learn subsequently, did you feel that your writing for radio had helped you to write more effectively for the stage, maybe even in the actual construction of the plays, was there a direct carry over of experience?
I think the carry over comes from everything you write. I don't think that the medium itself was that significant, but it was significant in my life because simply learning how to write a play whether it was for radio or television, I say television because actually I did have a play on television in sixty three. All these things educated me. I say that sitting in a National Theatre in a break from a rehearsal of you know an..., another play, and I don't know how educated I've become, and I'm still looking at the thing and feeling uncertain about its architecture. It's not as though there's a right answer to each play, there may be but you certainly don't know what it is when you set out.
Again as you said that your love of words just emerged, the love of theatre there's no particular trigger for that, you just knew that you wanted to use your words in a theatrical way?
Well there wasn't a trigger but there was a set of circumstances. Er to begin with the place where I was working, Bristol, had the Bristol Vic, and I was somebody who discovered, went, you know went to, went to the theatre there and other theatres, but more important than that was the fact that it happened to be a time in our culture when a disproportionate amount of attention was being paid to the theatre. This was, you know, after the middle fifties, and most people of my age who wanted to make a name for themselves as, as writers tended to look at the theatre. Of course that situation has changed a lot and, and er hot young novelists are the thing now.
But, so it was as much the opportunist thing, all of us, er young tigers were the word, want to write for the theatre, it was, it was in the air?
It was in the air and there was an element of opportunism. One wanted attention for what one wrote.
Do you come alive within the theatre, 'cause you attend all the rehearsals don't you?
Well one of the things I like most about the theatre is not its literary side, although clearly that has an appeal to me, but what I love about the theatre is its pragmatism, it's, it's a, it's a pragmatic art form. I love it for being adjustable at every point. There's, there's no point where theatre gets frozen unless you walk away from it.
You don't hand down your script as tablets of stone?
No, you see before you write a play, or in my case before I'd written a play I thought of it rather like that, you know that, that the playwright writes a text and theatre is, is what happens to it, theatre is how it's served. That's true in the broadest possible way, but of course the um reciprocal action between the writer and the director and the actors and the designer and the audience ultimately is continuous, and you know every single day I, I'm at rehearsal including this morning, I'm adding or taking away words.
So you've never been upset if an actor says I'm terribly sorry Tom, either I can't say that line or that line seems absolutely wrong to this particular character, that's, that's...
Oddly, oddly enough that, that's not the, you know that's not how actors feel about things, it's not, that isn't it. No when I say that um there's an empirical level to theatre, I mean that if two actors are having a conversation here while three are having a conversation there and one of them has to walk four paces, and you think that's a silence I don't want, give him three more words, this is the kind of, it's like sitting, you know when I got into movies what I always loved was sitting in front of the Stienbeck, the editing machine, and being God manipulating, changing reality. And rehearsals are a bit like that, you're still in control of the play, you're still creating it, it, it's not simply lying there like something which has to be pumped into life.
What might make you feel that you had lost control of the play if there was a director who was really so insensitive, or a director who was asking for changes which you knew were wrong for the spirit of what you'd written?
Well that's never happened. By the time you're in a rehearsal room you've, you've, you've got past that possibility. First of all other than at very earliest stages of your career, you tend to be working with people you already know some of them, so you're not going in with your fingers crossed thinking gosh I hope this person isn't going to be rotten to me and so forth. Things are much more collaborative and organic.
How long do ideas take to gestate, I mean your, this trilogy, after all one new play is quite a thing, three new plays heroic. Looking back on it when did some idea that er Alexander Hertzen and his colleagues might form the basis of drama, how far back did that go?
About five years. I'm always grateful to get to a point where there's something I want to write a play about, and usually my plays don't overlap even in my mind. More recently, probably because I'm aware that I've got less time than I used to have, I try to hurry up the process, and um the play before these plays which is a play about A E Houseman the poet, I got that as a thought very strongly and immediately almost before the previous play was on the stage, but somehow it still took about four years for me to do it. Again with the play about um Hertzen and these other Russians, we're talking about the mid nineteenth century now, Russian radical opposition, again this was something that I knew I wanted to write about er five years ago when the Houseman play was barely on.
But you were able to park that in the back of your mind until you were ready to start thinking about it in detail?
No not at all, I'd been working solidly since that moment because it was a subject which um expanded faster than I could contain it and er master it. The, the material, er there used to be one of those toys where this, this foam, when you took the lid off the foam, the foam from this little box covered the coffee table, it was a bit like that and, and er, and I wasn't just thinking that, that I'd be writing a trilogy at all of course, er but a year later I began to, as I began to sort out the story of these people, I began to see that I couldn't possibly, I'd have to abandon most of it to just simply write a play, and at that point I began to sort it out as three plays. But because these are plays about historical characters involved in quite difficult philosophical and political ideological matters, about which I knew very little, and certainly very little about them, it was a play which required a tremendous amount of reading and I probably overloaded and went on reading too long and after...
But you finish the reading before you start writing, and you let what you've absorbed from the reading digest itself and become fallow before you start writing, is that the process?
I take notes from what I read. I have to read everything two or three times for it to stick, and even then I'm always going back to something I'd read a year earlier, two years earlier, er to remind myself what I need. The notes for the trilogy occupy more paper than the trilogy occupies of course, and I don't think I managed the process all that way. I felt I had to know everything in order to make the choice about which bits I'd want and use and so forth.
That makes it sound far more like research than the creative process which it clearly, I mean that is not, not, not the case. It's interesting that you feel you have to get such a secure hook on the facts of a particular situation before you can write about it.
Yes, research sounds rather joyless. All, all the time I'm reading um I'm as it were editing what I'm reading into things which I know I'll want and so and...
And are you hearing the characters already?
Yes one's hearing them certainly. And I get a terrible early hang up about being accurate, um unnecessarily accurate actually, and a, a lot of the time I'm trying to make things work the way they happened simply because that's exactly how they happened. And now looking back on the plays, I realise that from the play's point of view there's no difference between those passages which I invented or compressed and the ones which are faithful representations of a particular moment. Er the audience doesn't know the difference and there isn't any difference in that sense.
When you create dialogue, and leave aside the dialogue between real characters whether it's historical record, are the characters usually or are they always yourself talking to yourself, or do you consciously say this is character A and this is character B and they must be different, but is it fundamentally an internal dialogue with yourself?
To some extent it is. One wouldn't altogether abandon a character and furthermore the way a person thinks and the way a person talks er are sometimes inextricably confused and confusing, so a character emerges out of content too. But yes it's a, it's a play about people, among other things it's a play about people searching for the ideal society, to put it at its most high flown. So there is a level where the terms of the argument are as important as the characterisation of the speaker. And all my writing life I've been guilty, if that's the word, of writing things which I wish to be said in the tone in which I wish them to be said, and occasionally I would be in the position where I would re-dis..., re-distribute certain speeches among different characters. I change my mind about who said this or who said that, and clearly the demands of characterisation cannot in that instance prevail.
Do you believe in an ideal society?
Well I believe in the desirability of an optimal society. I think that with Alexander Hertzen who ultimately is the focus of this trilogy, I believe with him and by the way with Isiah Berlin who is Hertzen's cheerleader in modern times. What I believe in is that er Utopia is an incoherent concept, that there is no overall right answer to all these questions which have puzzled people for several thousand years, and I, what I do believe in is that it's, it should be possible to have a fair society and a just society without needing to feel that concepts such as justice must have an absolute meaning and application for all people at all times in all places. I think that the present is worth attention, one shouldn't sacrifice it to future conceptions of, of this future or that future. What he says in the play which I, I rather think I, I do feel in my own heart is at one point he says that if we can't arrange our own happiness it's a conceit beyond vulgarity to arrange the happiness of those who come after us.
Looking at, at the whole of your, your career, most common thing said about you is that there are two clear phases, this is those who view you in this way. The first is the period of the argumentative plays, the purely clever plays you might say, and then the second came after the watershed in nineteen eighty two of the real thing, a play about love, pain, adultery human relationships and again the perhaps glib phrase is that there's the Stoppard of the mind and the Stoppard of the heart and that there was a really big change. Now do you recognise that as a way of looking at your work at all?
Yes, yes I do. Um I'm aware that I kicked off as a language nerd, I mean I sort of a language something, I mean I yes I've also come to understand that the humanity in theatre is and has to be provided by the people who perform the piece to some extent. I think that I was saved in the past more than I realise by the humanity that the actors brought to a scene, to a play. And I said I did recognise the picture because it's clear to me too that as I remarked at the very beginning of the conversation, er I've become much less shy about emotions, and now I think I'm writing in a, in a way which is probably very, very different from a play like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.
Is there more the sense of integration that heart and mind now work together in a much more natural way, and that you don't argue with yourself about which one is in the ascendant?
I think I was probably too concerned when I set off to have a firework go off every few seconds, whether it was a sparkler or a Roman candle or a rocket or just a tiny flint just sparking for an instant. I think, I think I was always sort of looking for the entertainer in myself, and I seemed to be able to entertain through manipulating language. So that, that, that became, I'm not saying I planned this or worked it out or was even aware of it, but I can see that when I came to be, you know, sitting in a theatre watching the Cherry Orchard, you know, the sense of, of [LAUGHTER] instant diminution, I mean as one sort of diminishes in one's chair one thinks yes I see, um it's really about human beings isn't it, it's not really about language at all. I saw a Gorky play in this very building, Trevor Nunn 's production of Summer Folk, and it was seeing that play which as much as anything made me determined, after many years of being determined, to try to write that kind of a play. I haven't done so of course, but I think I've written some scenes which are not too far away. But yes I thought I want to, I'd like to write a play for these people in this very set, I'd, I'd like to write a Russian play. And so the, the, the trilogy, you know, contains a few lines the like of which I would never have dreamed of including any play associated with my name, lines you know like would you like a glass of milk er or how are you feeling today. I mean that small change um...
It's a big change for you.
Well yes it is and, and these are plays which are a combination of small talk and big talk.
One of the things I always found odd is the idea that you weren't some sort of political writer, and I suppose that's because of the narrow way in which political playwright has been defined or was defined in Britain for so long, that is that you had to be of the hard committed Left. But er I mean way way back certainly Professional Foul, your television play about er Czechoslovakia, and that was nineteen seventy seven, you were deeply engaged in, in politics but perhaps not the politics that the Left wanted you to be involved in, you were aware of the corruption of language in the Soviet Union weren't you?
Well I was always writing plays that I wanted to write without worrying about what kind of plays I ought to be writing. Um Professional Foul is, is in, is in a broad sense a very political play, but I didn't think of it as being a political play in its fundamental sense. I always said, and I still think, and it's certainly true of that play, that political questions resolve themselves into moral questions. It was a play about conflicting moralities, and sometimes a play about conflicting mor..., moralities works itself out through a political scenario, an ideological scenario. But yes I think that when I started writing I wasn't particularly, in fact I was not looking to engage myself with matters of the moment. As a matter of fact I always felt that journalism, and particularly television journalism, was a much more effective and immediate tool for changing society the way artists are supposed to want to change society.
And I don't think journalists believe that either.
Well I, I, I, I believe it, I think that you know journalism means many things, more nowadays than, than used to be the case. But yes I, I, I believe in, in print and television journalism as being very powerful tools.
But not drama. Um do you, did you get involved in Czech human rights, because of Vaclav Havel's writing and his use and sense of words, or because of politics or a sense of, of, of Czechness, was it words that took you into politics?
No, as far as I recall actually I, I, I was active, if that's the word, in a Russian dissidence rather than Czech dissidence er earlier, and the one lead to the other. I think that, I mustn't overstate my involvement but I was involved to some degree in dissident activities, supporting dissidents in Czechoslovakia in around about the late seventies I think, but it was certainly something to do with being Czech, but not um entirely. It was a time of course when we all felt well we, we, we have to engage ourselves at some level er somewhere in the world, and I chose Eastern Europe . There was an awful lot going on in Central and South America, and I'd say look I can't cope with Guatemala, I don't know anything about it I, I, I can't take it in as well, it's hard enough trying to understand what's happening in, in, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Poland.
But it must have been easier, or was it easier that Havel was analysing the corruption of a political system through the corruption of his language, and therefore did that not have very considerable impact on your own belief in language and its connection with morality?
I, I loved his plays because he was very good at what he did, you know. I didn't love them because they were about the corruption of language. I mean there are then probably quite a lot of plays around which are about the corruption of language, but er they may not be any good. Havel wrote wonderful plays, he had a deft and sprightly intelligence and a wit which even in translation you couldn't miss, they were terrific plays. I also like him, I mean in his interviews and subsequently when I met him. So there was a, there was a personal element in this, I, I really, I really took to him an wanted to help in some way.
As far as the role of art in politics in concerned do you still sympathise with Auden 's view that his poetry didn't save a single Jew from the gas chambers, so there's no point in trying to justify art by saying it does something else, i.e. it behaves like politics?
I think that if you imagine a culture, a society and mentally extract art from it, then one understands that er art doesn't require me or anybody else to defend it, it is an absolute essential. Er society becomes almost meaningless. I think to focus in on, on what Auden wrote, you know, leads you into trying to make a determination about a particular point. But the real point is that er art is, is a template, a, a, a matrix of some kind for our morality, it's always there as politics' conscience.
You have got a K, you've got an OM , you've got an Oscar , international recognition, is there anything more that you want as a person?
Oh no thank you so much. Um I imagine and I hope that most, if not all people who receive awards, for which I am grateful and appreciative, have the feeling I have that, that gosh you know these awards obviously they're not what they used to be.
Is there anything else you want for yourself as an artist apart from the huge success of er the Coast of Utopia ?
I, I think I'd like to, I won't be able to because it's a character defect, but in theory I would like to alter my life completely so that the next time I'm writing something nobody is waiting for it. I'd quite like to change the scale and the pace of the way I work.
But time is entirely in your hands isn't it and I think you've always said that the trouble with you is if somebody comes up with a bright idea and you say yes I want to do it?
I suppose it is in my hands, but it's also alas in my character, and while I would like now to spend the year saying well I think I might be writing a sonnet but I'm not sure, and um it doesn't matter if I do or I don't. I'll probably end up suddenly getting enthusiastic about a project or a play and I'll start a..., assenting vaguely that yes perhaps September two thousand and three it might be a possibility, and suddenly there I am missing Wimbledon, missing going fishing, missing going to the theatre, missing dinner because of this er idiotic commitment that I've let myself in for.
It sounds like compulsive behaviour to me.
It sounds like clinical behaviour.
Too late to change.
Clinical condition, yes.
Tom Stoppard thank you very much.
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