Friday, January 30, 2015
The Hard Problem...
The play follows the story of psychology student Hilary (Olivia Vinall) as she wins a job at a neuroscience institute funded by a vicious hedge-fund billionaire, Krohl (Anthony Calf).
Hilary is helped along the way admirably (and often confrontationally) by her often stripped and very ripped ex-tutor lover Spike (Damien Molony). Spike is a rational Darwinian fundamentalist (think of a hot Richard Dawkins) who has little truck with Hilary's praying and faith in a higher power.
Stoppard loves throwing his characters into good old fashioned arguments and here they trade banterful blows, intellectual insults, and wily witticisms about 'the hard problem' - can we distinguish between brain activity and awareness. How do sensations acquire characteristics, such as colours and tastes. Empiricism vs rationalists. What is consciousness? Is there a God? Oh, all the easy stuff.
She is an altruistic fan of altruism. She is good. He's a brilliant brutalist - an egotist who belives that the ego is king. The selfish genius.
Krohl in turn is brutal to his City associates – it is law-of-the-jungle stuff. Yet as one of his underlings (Parth Thakerar) observes, ruthless markets do occasionally behave irrationally. So much for the empiricism of survival genes.
The staging is spare, modern: decorated by an overhang of neon lights that burst into pretty, multi-coloured activity between scenes. This represents the whirring of the brain. Set changes are accompanied by rich, ornate piano music.
It is a good play, maybe not up there with Stoppard's greats. The well sign-posted plot twist was a tad too easy to guess and the resolution tries to not only have it's cake and eat it but to buy the whole cake shop too.
Great acting though and a fitting end as Nicolas Hytner's final production at the NT.