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the Complete Review
the complete review - drama


Tom Stoppard

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To purchase Hapgood

Title: Hapgood
Author: Tom Stoppard
Genre: Drama
Written: 1988 (rev. 1994)
Length: 89 pages
Availability: Hapgood - US (1988 ed.)
Hapgood - US (1994 ed.)
in: Tom Stoppard Plays: 5 - US
in: Tom Stoppard Plays: 5 - UK
in Tom Stoppard: Plays 5 - Canada
  • First published in 1988
  • Published in a 'Broadway Edition' in 1994, "Reprinted with corrections" (in fact it is a considerably revised version)
  • The version included in Tom Stoppard Plays: 5 is the revised 'Broadway Edition'
  • First performed in London 8 March 1988, in a production directed by Peter Wood and starring Felicity Kendal, Nigel Hawthorne, and Roger Rees

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Our Assessment:

B+ : very clever, but not entirely convincing

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Daily Mail . 9/3/1988 Jack Tinker
The New Republic . 30/1/1995 Robert Brustein
Newsweek A 19/12/1994 Jack Kroll
The Observer . 13/3/1988 Michael Ratcliffe
Punch . 25/3/1988 Sheridan Morley
Sunday Telegraph . 13/3/1988 Francis King
Time . 19/12/1994 Brad Leithauser

  From the Reviews:
  • "Tom Stoppard's Hapgood is another intellectual exercise, but only intermittently does it manage to convert intellect into passion. (...) Indeed, the evening possesses everything except a coherent dramatic purpose. Partially conceived as a rather condescending satire on the spy novels of John Le Carre, Hapgood is such an intricate series of pyrotechnics, such a dazzling display of plot maneuvers illuminated by artificial light, that your interest in the outcome grows anesthetized." - Robert Brustein, The New Republic

  • "In Hapgood, the bizarrely sane world of quantum physics becomes a metaphor for the bizarrely insane world of international espionage. (...) Everyone is suspect in a plot so dazzlingly complicated that it spins itself into a whirl of double agents, triple crosses, a spy who's really twins, a spy who pretends to be twins, lovers who don't make love, antagonists who make love." - Jack Kroll, Newsweek

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       NOTE: Hapgood was originally produced and published in 1988. A revised edition was published in 1994 -- the so-called 'Broadway Edition' -- to coincide with the New York premiere of the piece. Although the published edition claims it is only: "Reprinted with corrections 1994", there are, in fact, substantial substantive cuts (and a few small additions), particularly regarding the science presented in the play. Unfortunately, this revised edition appears now to be the standard text (it is the version reprinted in the collected plays, Tom Stoppard Plays: 5).
       In the opinion of the complete review the original edition is in every way superior, and it is that edition that our review is largely based on.
       Hapgood cleverly mixes a Cold War spy drama and science. Kerner is a Russian defector, now in the employ of the British secret service, working as a double (or triple ?) agent. He is a physicist, and his specialty is anti-matter physics. His work has possible applications in former US president Ronald Reagan's nutty money-burning pet project, nicknamed "Star Wars" (the so-called "Strategic Defense Initiative").
       The play begins with a confusing ballet of double- and triple-dealing, as information is supposed to be passed off (or not) in a men's changing room at a public swimming pool. The drop -- which is also a trap -- and the switch go inexplicably wrong.
       It's a quantum dance: what you see isn't what you get. By observing the drop the agents have influenced the outcome. Kerner explains that it is just like light: depending on how you look at it, it can be (or can seem to be) either a particle or a wave.
       The blown drop causes problems: Kerner can no longer be trusted -- either by the British secret service or by the Russians. Elizabeth Hapgood, who runs Kerner, is also in trouble, because it looks like she might be responsible for what went wrong. And then her son -- who happens to be Kerner's child too -- is kidnapped, apparently by the Russians, in an effort to extort the missing information.
       Stoppard choreographs a complicated dance of deception and trickery. Twins abound -- real and imagined ones -- and quantum principles help explain (or confound) the action. There is, eventually, a clever solution, deftly presented, but there is also an awful lot of involuted action along the way. Hapgood is terribly clever, and sometimes the cleverness gets in the way of the proceedings.
       Hapgood is also somewhat dated -- a Cold War drama in a post-Cold War world. It is almost difficult to remember the Soviet spectre as it hangs over these events. In the 1994 edition Stoppard still flails at presenting the evil empire, updating the play slightly in maintaining that the big bad Russians won't change their ways:
Budapest in '56 -- Prague in '68 -- Poland in '81 -- we've been there ! -- and it's not going to be different in East Berlin in '89. They can't afford to lose.
       In the meantime they have, of course, lost -- utterly and completely. It's almost hard to remember what all the fuss was about -- but the play depends on the very real horror of that time for some of its resonance (which thus echoes only weakly for a contemporary audience).

       Those who like the clever Stoppard should enjoy Hapgood (preferably the more detailed 1988 edition). Those with a more limited attention span may find it merely confusing. But it is worthwhile, a neat and rewarding play-game.

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Hapgood: Reviews: Tom Stoppard: Other works by Tom Stoppard under review: Works about Tom Stoppard under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Drama under review

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About the Author:

       British dramatist Tom Stoppard, born in 1937, is author of such notable plays as Arcadia and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.

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© 2002-2009 the complete review

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