Literary Saloon
Site of Review.

Trying to meet all your book preview and review needs.

the Best
the Rest
Review Index



to e-mail us:

In Association with Amazon.com

In association with Amazon.com - UK



the Complete Review
the complete review - literary criticism

Stoppard's Theatre

John Fleming

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Stoppard's Theatre

Title: Stoppard's Theatre
Author: John Fleming
Genre: Literary Criticism
Written: 2001
Length: 253 pages
Availability: Stoppard's Theatre - US
Stoppard's Theatre - UK
Stoppard's Theatre - Canada
  • Finding Order amid Chaos
  • Includes an Annotated Chronology of Stoppard's Career and a Bibliography

- Return to top of the page -

Our Assessment:

B : a good deal of useful background information, fairly clearly (if quite dryly) presented

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
American Theatre . 2/2002 Sarah Hart
TLS . 12/7/2002 John Stokes

  From the Reviews:
  • "(A) clear, readable and eminently useful account of Stoppard's work for the stage. (...) Fleming's analysis remains on the mark, but the book's best asset is perhaps his willingness to allow Stoppard to speak for himself." - Sarah Hart, American Theatre

  • "But his efforts to tidy up the record of versions, editions, and manuscripts come in the wake of all those dazzling "events" and inevitably they miss the verve of a writer who refuses to be tied down" - John Stokes, Times Literary Supplement

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.

- Return to top of the page -

The complete review's Review:

       In his introduction John Fleming notes that: "The most recent single-authored, book-length study of Stoppard's work was published in 1992" -- until this work, of course. It is a remarkable span of time, especially considering how highly regarded and often produced Stoppard continues to be. It is also a span during which his perhaps greatest play premièred (Arcadia (1993), see our review), along with at least one other major work (The Invention of Love (1997), see our review). (Fleming does note that Ira Nadel's Stoppard-biography is expected in 2002; it is now available as Double Act (or, in the US, simply Tom Stoppard: A Life -- see our review.)
       So, if nothing else, Stoppard's Theatre can offer an up to date survey of Stoppard's theatrical output, including his recent triumphs. And, for this alone, it is already welcome.
       Fleming does offer a solid, thorough work. It is, it must be noted, focussed very specifically on Stoppard's dramas. The novel (Lord Malquist and Mr. Moon), the radio plays, and the screenplays (including Stoppard's Academy Award winning contribution to Shakespeare in Love) are almost completely ignored. (A few of the plays also get short shrift, notably Enter a Free Man.) But for what Fleming does cover he often presents fairly useful information.
       Fleming presents varying information about the dramas:

(...) depending on the availability of information and its relevancy, the following considerations may be included: point of origin or personal connection to Stoppard, explication of the central ideas addressed, evolution of the script through different published or produced versions, and thematic analysis of the text and production.
       Fleming's study is particularly useful in pointing out how varied different productions and texts of the same play often are. Stoppard often revised his texts, and even published versions differ dramatically from one edition to the next. The so-called Broadway edition of Hapgood, for example, is very different from the original text. Theatre-goers and even readers of Stoppard's plays may be unaware of how much Stoppard changes his texts (focussing very much on the performances) -- in the Broadway production of The Invention of Love (too late to be considered in this volume), for example, a full half hour of the play was cut between the first preview and the première. Fleming does a great service in making readers aware of Stoppard's willingness to continue to change and adapt his texts -- and suggesting the reasons for particular changes.
       Fleming notes that his book "benefits from my being the first scholar to examine in depth Stoppard's personal papers, which are now housed at the University of Texas's Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center". He is certainly correct in this, as he is able to provide much useful background information from the sources there. It also led Fleming to the single most exciting part of the book: a discussion and assessment of Stoppard's unpublished screenplay and then unproduced stage-play about Galileo.
       Fleming devotes a whole chapter to this essentially unknown work, and it is for this chapter alone that the book will be of interest to Stoppard-fans. A sort of anti-Brecht version of the Galileo story, Fleming provides a good overview and discussion of the work -- fascinating stuff. (It should be noted, however, that while Fleming is very attentive to Stoppard's play-variations he doesn't extend the same courtesy to Brecht. Fleming concludes simply that: "While Stoppard celebrates Galileo, Brecht condemns him", which isn't quite a fair reflection of Brecht's Galileos. While true for the last version of Life of Galileo, Fleming doesn't even mention that there are, in fact, at least two other, very different prior versions of the play as well. The final one may be considered the definitive one, but it surely must be mentioned that Brecht's vision and version of Galileo underwent several radical transformations from play to play.)
       Fleming's analyses are fairly interesting, though the quality is uneven. He provides some good insight into the philosophical and moral issues in plays like Jumpers and Professional Foul, as well as useful background material that helps position a text like Every Good Boy Deserves Favor. About some of the others he also offers useful commentary, but perhaps not as much or as clearly focussed.
       Sometimes Fleming neglects what seem like fairly major points -- so, for example, in his discussion of The Invention of Love Jerome K. Jerome only warrants one mention in a footnote. Fleming does mention there that Stoppard "is 'loosely' quoting Jerome K. Jerome's Three Men in a Boat", and that Jerome in fact appears as a character in the play, -- and that Stoppard "has long admired the book, and he has written both a screenplay (1975) and a radio play (1997) of it". All that, and still Fleming doesn't make more of it .....
       Much of what Fleming relates is based on the reception of the plays -- everything from critical reception (the reviews) to the feelings of the audience, the actors, and even Stoppard himself. It is difficult to make any sort of easy-flowing narrative out of this, and so Stoppard's Theatre doesn't always read very smoothly. In fact, it is probably more useful as a reference volume than a real "read".
       There are extensive footnotes in Stoppard's Theatre, and much of the most interesting information can often be found buried here. Again: it diminishes the sheer reading pleasure of the book, as Fleming didn't find any better way of integrating the material into the text -- but at least the information is there.
       Occasionally -- especially regarding Stoppard's private life -- Fleming is too coy. Stoppard's "relationship" with actress Felicity Kendal is mentioned several times but Fleming refuses to be anything but obtuse regarding what the hell that actually means, revealing only (in a footnote) that "he eventually left his wife for a relationship with Felicity Kendal". Aside from the fact that he offers no specificity about when this all took place, he also doesn't really explain what the nature of the "relationship" was/is. In the Native State, for example, is called "Stoppard's gift to Felicity Kendal" -- which, to us, sounds like it is a playwright-actress relationship (and, naïve as we are, we can imagine a playwright leaving his wife merely in order to write plays for another woman). Elsewhere (in a footnote again) Fleming circumspectly writes that: "Stoppard's personal life, in regard to his relationship with Felicity Kendal, became the source of extensive coverage by the tabloids". But what sort of coverage ? And again: what sort of relationship ? We realize that the implication is that Stoppard was doing her off-stage, as well as writing for her on-stage, but why can't this be spelled out for us ? (It seems a particularly important point, given the fact that they certainly had a significant professional relationship -- i.e. Kendal had a significant role in many Stoppard plays, something also worth more attention than Fleming gives it. And it should also be made clearer because most Americans probably don't have the foggiest idea who Felicity Kendal is.).
       (Fleming shows remarkable restraint regarding almost all aspects of Stoppard's private life; certainly, Stoppard's Theatre isn't meant to be biography, but it is hard to believe that Stoppard's personal life isn't a bit more significant than Fleming is willing to allow for.)
       Some of Stoppard's writing also deserves a bit more mention -- so, for example, Stoppard's screenplays -- if only to suggest what else Stoppard was occupying himself with. (In addition, it seems to us, the stylistic and formal demands of the form might also provide some theatrical insights.) What mentions there are are often asides that are so aside that they confuse rather serve any useful function. The mention of the screenplay of Robert Harris' bestseller, Enigma, remains merely enigmatic, while Hopeful Monsters is described in the Chronology as the "screenplay of Nicholas Moseley's novel" -- which is at least somewhat helpful, even if, unfortunately, that is not how Oswald's son's name is spelled. (What is it about about poor Nic Mosley that no one seems to be able to get his name right ? In André Schiffrin's The Business of Books (see our review) he is referred to as "Leonard Mosley")

       Stoppard's Theatre is a useful survey and overview of Stoppard's major dramas. There is a great deal of information to be found here, including much that is relatively unknown (including Stoppard's Galileo work) and particularly valuable discussions of textual variations for all the plays considered.
       Fleming isn't always right in his assessment: he notes, for example, that
as of summer 2000 neither Indian Ink nor The Invention of Love has had a New York production, and their prospects for success in the United States are much less likely.
       But by summer 2001 (i.e. even before publication of this book) The Invention of Love had, after its American première in San Francisco, enjoyed very successful runs in both Philadelphia and New York, and certainly seems to have established itself as more of a crowd-favourite than, for example, Hapgood. Still, Fleming generally does offer a well-reasoned (and very well documented) consideration of Stoppard's theatrical work.
       Certainly of great interest to Stoppard-scholars, and also recommended for real Stoppard fans.

       (One additional odd note: a significant number (about one in ten, we estimate) of pages in our edition of the book have no page numbers. Not a major annoyance, but occasionally a bit frustrating.)

       Note: The discussion of scientific and mathematical issues causes problems for countless academics trained in the humanities -- and unfortunately Fleming is no exception. (Unfortunately, also, there are apparently no knowledgeable editors out there to correct the slips and mistakes that occur.) Much of the science that Fleming discusses is fairly close to the mark (if not always exactly clearly presented) -- close enough at least. But he also writes things like:
(...) minor changes in input (for example, rounding .506127 to .506, a change of .1 percent) can cause major variations in outcome. (p. 193)
       This adequately conveys the concept of the so-called "butterfly effect" -- except that his example is a very bad one. The concept of change he uses -- as in: "a change of .1 percent" -- is not something any mathematician or scientists would ever use. The two numbers he cites are actually much farther apart than his misleading "change" suggests: .506127 is actually fully 2.5 percent more than .506 -- so this "minor change" is actually 25 time larger (2.5 vs. 0.1) than he claims (and thus not really so minor).
       Fleming's use of the word "change" is bad for the simple reason that it is looking at the wrong thing: to go from .98 to .99 is a "change" (in the Fleming-sense) of 1 percent -- as is to go from .01 to .02. But as even the most innumerate recognize: .02 is the double of .01 (i.e. it fully 100 percent more than .01), while .99 really is just barely 1 percent more than .98.
       (In addition, annoyingly, the "change of .1 percent" Fleming writes of is actually a "change" of .127 percent (fully 27 percent more than he suggests) -- so he doesn't even get that right.)

       Maths is marvelously simple and straightforward (certainly at this level of discussion), and it really shouldn't be that hard to get it right. But apparently it is.

- Return to top of the page -


Stoppard's Theatre: Tom Stoppard: John Fleming: Works by Tom Stoppard under review: Works about Tom Stoppard under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Drama under review

- Return to top of the page -

About the Author:

       John Fleming was born in 1965. He teaches at Southwest Texas State University.

- Return to top of the page -

© 2002-2009 the complete review

Main | the New | the Best | the Rest | Review Index | Links