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the Complete Review
the complete review - drama

(The Coast of Utopia - Part III)

Tom Stoppard

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To purchase Salvage

Title: Salvage
Author: Tom Stoppard
Genre: Drama
Written: 2002
Length: 119 pages
Availability: Salvage - US
Salvage - UK
Salvage - Canada
  • The Coast of Utopia is a play in three parts (see also our review for each):
  • Salvage was first performed at the National Theatre in London on 19 July 2002, in a production directed by Trevor Nunn

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Our Assessment:

B+ : fine finale to the trilogy

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Atlantic Monthly . 12/2002 Christopher Hitchens
Daily Telegraph . 5/8/2002 Charles Spencer
The Economist . 8/8/2002 .
Evening Standard . 5/8/2002 Nicholas de Jongh
The Guardian . 5/8/2002 Michael Billington
The Hudson Review . Winter/2003 Richard Hornby
The Independent . 5/8/2002 Paul Taylor
Int. Herald Tribune . 7/8/2002 Sheridan Morley
Le Monde . 10/8/2002 J.-L. Perrier
The Nation . 9/12/2002 Carol Rocamora
Neue Zürcher Zeitung . 6/8/2002 Patricia Benecke
The New Criterion . 9/2002 Mark Steyn
The NY Sun . 21/2/2007 Eric Grode
The NY Times . 19/2/2007 Ben Brantley
The New Yorker . 23/9/2002 John Lahr
The NY Times . 21/8/2002 Ben Brantley
The Observer . 11/8/2002 Susannah Clapp
Time . 24/11/2002 Richard Corliss
The Times . 5/8/2002 Benedict Nightingale
TLS . 9/8/2002 Peter Kemp
The Village Voice . 28/8/2002 J.Yeh
Die Welt . 6/8/2002 Siegfried Helm

  From the Reviews:
  • "(T)he weakest of the three" - The Economist

  • "Salvage (...) offers a Dickensian portrait of the fractious émigré community." - Michael Billington, The Guardian

  • "Only in the last play, Salvage, is it possible to start really caring about his central characters and their families, as people start to take over from politics and we are shown the cost in lost lives and loves of all this revolutionary fervor." - Sheridan Morley, International Herald Tribune

  • "And so, despite covering a longer period of time than the other two plays (...) Salvage finds itself running in place, content to bask in its beautiful stage pictures (...) and its terrific cast." - Eric Grode, The New York Sun

  • "I wouldn’t call it a major work of art. In literary terms I wouldn’t even rank it with Mr. Stoppard’s best (in which I include the Broadway-bound Rock 'n' Roll). But as directed by Jack O’Brien and acted and designed by a stellar team of artisans, Utopia is a major work of theatrical craftsmanship, a luscious advertisement for the singular narrative seductiveness of drama." - Ben Brantley, The New York Times

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:

       Salvage completes Stoppard's trilogy. Again the focus is on Herzen and his ever-growing family. The play covers the period from 1853 to 1868. A wife and son dead at the close of Shipwreck, Herzen nevertheless finds himself evermore the family man (of sorts). The failures of 1848 weigh on him, but hope comes again. As does love (or infatuations) and suchlike temptations.
       Near the beginning of the play Herzen dreams -- and his dream comes alive, the whole mess of post-revolutionary (of the 1848 variety) Europe appearing on the stage before him. "A dream about exiles", he explains -- an almost unreal world much like the one he himself inhabits, amidst those trying still to organise and cause change in Russia from far abroad.
       From the mournful declaration "the world will hear no more of me" to the launch of his new undertaking "A free Russian press !", Herzen is quickly back in the thick of things. It keeps him busy and involved. As does his somewhat turbulent domestic situation, which he never seems to get a complete grip on either.
       Herzen still expresses the same concerns, the same outlook:

Herzen : I don't see how the well-being of society is going to be achieved if everybody is sacrificing themselves and nobody is enjoying themselves. (...) Who has gained by it ?
Blanc : The future.
Herzen : Ah, yes, the future.
       Turgenev, now entirely the impractical artist, also plays a fairly prominent role, gently arguing against those who deride him and what he does, believing that his art does also serve some purpose -- and willing to respond when asked what his purpose was in writing a fiction: "My purpose ? My purpose was to write a novel."
       The drama moves in a crescendo to the obvious historical event; the Emancipation of the Russian serfs, all prodded and seen only from afar. It's difficult to do (to present this on the stage), and yet the scene when it is announced shows exactly how great a playwright Stoppard is.
       The scene before is set in August 1860, at the Isle of Wight, the focus Turgenev. The next, in which the Emancipation becomes known, is set in March 1861; it is not even a page and a half in length. It opens with only Herzen's daughter Tata onstage:
Garden. Tata is drawing. Offstage, Liza, aged two, starts bawling. Tata looks round and sighs impatiently. The Nurse enters hurriedly.

Tata : She's in the nettles.
Nurse : You were supposed to be watching.
Tata : I was.
       All right, so it's a bit obvious and heavy handed (though after eight hours of play-watching, a bit of a heavy hand is probably necessary). It's still a damn good scene-setter.
       Then, quickly -- the joy of Emancipation. A champagne cork is popped. End of scene.
       The next ? December 1861, opening with Herzen's admission: "We got carried away. Or I did."
       Change, of any sort, and revolution prove again to be a tricky business. Over and over and over. Life and love too.
       Nearing the end Stoppard sends Herzen into a dream-world again -- this time less densely populated. Only Turgenev and Marx appear. Herzen tries to have his say and is ignored .....
       The final exchange in the play is in Russian, as Herzen's love-child Liza comes to him with a broken rope. The last spoken word is a dramatic, sure "Da !", spoken by the child -- a hope for the future. Even as lightning flashes and thunder claps around them.

       Again: there is so much here, so very much, and not all works ideally in dramatic form. The sheer mass of it -- especially coupled with the two previous plays -- threatens to overwhelm. And yet both the small pieces and the larger wholes impress.
       A fitting, well-done end.

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Salvage: Reviews: Michael Bakunin: Alexander Herzen: Ivan Turgenev: 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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