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Topic: 'THE HARD PROBLEM' REVIEWS - have you seen Damien's new play?

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4 star review from The Standard

http://www.standard.co.uk/goingout/theatre/the-hard-problem-national-theatre--theatre-review-a-typically-witty-return-for-tom-stoppard-10010037.html

The Hard Problem, National Theatre, Dorfman - theatre review: a 'typically witty' return for Tom Stoppard

An intellectually charged piece that delights in the slippery nature of language and pulses with interesting ideas

Updated: 10:33, 29 January 2015

Critic Ratingstar number 1star number 2star number 3star number 4star number 5
Reader Ratingstar number 1star number 2star number 3star number 4star number 5
 

Tom Stoppard’s first play for nine years is typically witty — an intellectually charged piece that delights in the slippery nature of language and pulses with interesting ideas.

At its heart are nagging questions: What is consciousness? How far is our day-to day behaviour shaped by ugly egotism? Do we tend to place too much faith in experiments devised by scientists who may well have secret agendas?

Stoppard explores these issues stimulatingly. Olivia Vinall is Hilary, a researcher plucked from obscurity to wrestle with psychology’s most intricate problems. Vinall has a radiant vitality, suggesting Hilary’s appealing openness yet also her deep wounds. She’s religious, and as a result she is tormented by her on-off lover Spike (Damien Molony, often seen in advanced states of undress).

 

We gradually recognise that Hilary's spiritual convictions are related to a hidden personal tragedy. What's more, she has to contend with several disagreeable men. Anthony Calf’s Jerry is the billionaire founder of the laboratory where she works. He's also the adoptive father of a quirky young girl — who at first seems a very small element of the play yet turns out to be a big one. Calf does a nice line in barking brusqueness, and there’s animated support from Jonathan Coy as fidgety scientist Leo and Parth Thakerar as Hilary’s cocky rival Amal. 

Elegantly interpreted by Nicholas Hytner, in his final production as artistic director of the National Theatre, the play feels delicate and precise. Bob Crowley’s design is dominated by a tangled mass of cables that simulates the complex wiring of the brain and shimmers with light between scenes. But the approach is restrained.

That’s no accident. Stoppard is portraying characters who prefer discussing life to living it. At times he seems to be poking fun at the competitive antics of academics, and there are some digs at tycoons who indulge in philanthropy while remaining remorselessly hard-bitten. Yet there’s also smart stuff about the compromises we make in relationships and the dangers of being all head and no heart. 

Until Thursday 16 April (020 7452 3000, nationaltheatre.org.uk)



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DMF
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Saw the Telegraph Pearl thanks for mentioning the likeable bit for Damien.

 

Also like these mentions of Damien: 

 

"the finely sculpted Damien Molony makes for a cheeky, subtle antagonist." via So So Gay

"There are strong turns from Damien Molony as Hilary's buff, brainiac lover " via The Times

 

and this made me lol!


"(Damien Molony, another Hytner discovery dating back to Travelling Light) both in verbal skirmishes and in what Arcadia refers to as "carnal embrace".

Spike (great name!) is as pragmatic and hard-nosed as the febrile Hilary is emotional and given over to prayer, and though the "-isms" get the full Stoppardian work-out, so, too, on this evidence, have the bodies of the people spouting them. Molony in particular spends so much of his stage time in various states of undress that the character could well have wandered in from My Night with Reg." via The Arts Desk



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Molonian
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In My Night With Reg the gorgeous Julian Ovenden is one of actors who strip off completely! Could we cope with this from Damien?

I notice I put "likably".  Freudian slip?



-- Edited by Pearl24 on Thursday 29th of January 2015 11:16:23 AM

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Damiac
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domino wrote:

Like this one from The Independent?

"sexily sardonic and cocky Damien Molony"

 

 


 Damien in nutshell I love these reviews, Damien seems to get lot of positive feedback. More than play itself does.



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Molonian
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from Broadway World:

www.broadwayworld.com/article/Review-Roundup-THE-HARD-PROBLEM-Opens-in-the-West-End-20150128

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Official London Theatre review

http://www.officiallondontheatre.co.uk/news/first-nights/article/item268089/the-hard-problem/

THE HARD PROBLEM

Reporter: Charlotte Marshall, first published Thu 29 Jan 2015 12:58

What’s it all about?

Consciousness, duality and the philosophical and psychological debate of altruism vs egoism.

Feeling daunted? Don’t be. Tom Stoppard’s much anticipated first play for almost ten years makes the arguments bite sized and accessible as his central character Hilary goes from student to scientist, with enough supporting characters to ask the questions you might be thinking as the debate unfolds.

A paradoxical novelty amongst her fellow pragmatic neuroscientists, Hilary prays to God every night and struggles to accept the proposition that her every emotion is purely the result of brain processes potentially so predictable, every human reaction could one day be replicated by a computer.

Quite frankly, if you’re not following the play equation for equation, my advice would be to stop worrying and go with it. Flowing alongside this scientific tutorial is an engrossing storyline that brings the abstract ideas into sharp focus as Hilary searches for her very own miracle.

Who’s in it?

Watch out world, Olivia Vinall has officially arrived. Clearly fated for brilliant things, the young actor follows her breakthrough role as Desdemona in Nicholas Hytner’s hugely acclaimed Othello to star as Hilary. With a surprising twist – which I won’t reveal here although, given how crucial it is to the play, no doubt many reviews will choose to – Vinall is gifted the challenge of transforming from the clichéd idealist student we first meet to something more complicated altogether. She breathes believable life into the role, proving herself to be a truly magnetic force on stage.

A confident Damien Molony provides stark contrast as her bullish, dogmatic and cutting tutor turned lover, who, alongside Parth Thakerar’s strutting, money-hungry Amal add shade to Hilary’s otherwise almost overwhelming goodness.  

What should I look out for?

Bob Crowley’s striking design that combines a minimalistic, stylish set with a stunning structure of lights that sparkle and jolt like a brain packed with overactive synapses.

In a nutshell?

Olivia Vinall is electric in Tom Stoppard’s latest provocative offering that questions the very building blocks of our being, from the mysteries of morality to the cold facts of evolution.

What’s being said on Twitter?

@katie_jacobs Really enjoyed the new Tom Stoppard 'the hard problem' at the NT. Mystery of consciousness & behavioural economics – nice

@willhoyle Saw Stoppard's new play #TheHardProblem at the National last night. Will the critics enjoy it as much as I did though?

Will I like it?

There is a very particular feeling to stories set within an academic institution or against a scientific backdrop and this production is dripping with the gravitas such a setting lends. The one hard problem with this play, however, is while the science may be bite-sized, the drama isn’t always as easy to swallow. But if you’re happy to accept that coincidences can sometimes be fantastical in nature, it proves an engrossing, thought-provoking watch.

The Hard Problem is playing at the National Dorfman Theatre until 27 May. You can book tickets through the theatre’s website.



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Marvellous Molonian Moderator
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There's a really interesting mix of reviews, particularly in terms of how much of the plot they give away. At least one of them seems to have given away something which seems to be a big plot twist! A play that seems to divide opinion is always going to get lots of people talking about it!

I'm not sure how Damien would feel about all the mentions of his abs! But at least he is getting some great compliments about his acting too!



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Damiac
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Rosie - you've just said exactly what I was going to say!  It is interesting how differently people seem to be viewing this play.  The only consistant opinion appears to be that Damien's quite buff - and we knew that already!  And yes...I've found myself wondering how he feels about the fact that his acting skills seem to be of secondary interest....

I don't think that I've seen any reviews which explicitly give away the plot twist.  But just by saying that it's pretty obvious makes it.....pretty obvious! - so not much of a twist, then? 



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woomewithtulips wrote:

So the real Hard Problem is how do we stop ourselves from shouting 'Undressed!' at this point?


 Hahaha becca!!  As our seats are all dotted around the auditorium it would be brilliant if we all shouted out together!  So when you hear somebody choking at this point....it'll just be me trying to stifle the urge! 



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From the 'officiallondontheatre' review....

What should I look out for?

Bob Crowley’s striking design that combines a minimalistic, stylish set with a stunning structure of lights that sparkle and jolt like a brain packed with overactive synapses.

 

....not sure that's what's going to hold my attention...

 

Sorry!  I'll log out now.....

 



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"The Hard Abdomen" anyone?

 

 

Lots more reviews are out for the play,  but all seem to mention Damien's semi nudity throughout!

It has to be said that this play was opening to possibly the hugest expectations a play could ever have - a world renowned playwright's first play in years, a world renowned director's last play at the National Theatre - it would be interesting to see how the exact same play and performances would be received in different context.

Furthermore... the play is tackling a subject which is in itself provocative and some of the reaction I've seen is based on scientific standpoints. I've seen reviews say its too academic not much emotion and I've seen the opposite too. 

Good art should get be talking so I hope there is more discussion on the themes ....and on performances than the direcor and playwritght, thought it is understandable why.

I am more interested in the non theatre critic elite, non male dominated, opinion - let's see what us good old "general public" think!



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DMF
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A bit off that The Guardian have changed the heading and sub heading for their review on the night of the performance from

The Hard Problem review – packed with ideas, underpinned by emotion

4/5stars
 

Dorfman Theatre, London

Tom Stoppard tackles momentous problems around consciousness, morality and human behaviour in stimulating new work

 


to this the next day! 

The Hard Problem review – Tom Stoppard tackles momentous ideas

4/5stars
 

Dorfman Theatre, London
Playwright explores consciousness, morality and human behaviour in stimulating work that occasionally suffers from information overload



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Molonian
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Is this one on the website yet? 

What's On Stage review



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I'm only posting the 4 and 5 star ones Pearl, but thanks for sharing. There are a gazillon others out there much of a sameness!



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Damiac
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fifi wrote:

From the 'officiallondontheatre' review....

What should I look out for?

Bob Crowley’s striking design that combines a minimalistic, stylish set with a stunning structure of lights that sparkle and jolt like a brain packed with overactive synapses.

 

....not sure that's what's going to hold my attention...

 

Sorry!  I'll log out now.....

 


 fifi you have been on FIRE! biggrin



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JozieMozie wrote:
fifi wrote:

From the 'officiallondontheatre' review....

What should I look out for?

Bob Crowley’s striking design that combines a minimalistic, stylish set with a stunning structure of lights that sparkle and jolt like a brain packed with overactive synapses.

 

....not sure that's what's going to hold my attention...

 

Sorry!  I'll log out now.....

 


 fifi you have been on FIRE! biggrin


 there seems to be an undertone of filth all over the forum since this play became The Hard Abdomen. Not entirely our fault. Is it?



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No, no it isn't. I blame Damien and his too sexy appearance and habit being half naked on stage. Some of us has lost their minds already

Back to the topic. I was going to say something about these reviews but I lost it. Sorry

I agree Rosie, very interesting mix of reviews . I have to say I get quite excited to see Olivia Vinall on stage too, lots of praising on her direction. Lots of praising for Damien (and his abs), which is wonderful thing. But I'm getting little nervous about seeing this play after these reviews.  I have been on theatre before, but not in UK, haven't seen Damien on stage before and now apparently his swinging half naked there... Will I be able to concentrate about the play itself at all? Cause I would really want to you know.. follow the plot.



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"The Hard Abdomen" - genius, domino!!

I blame the reviewers...who, lets face it, have all had to get some comment in....

 



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domino wrote:

"The Hard Abdomen" anyone?

 

 

Lots more reviews are out for the play,  but all seem to mention Damien's semi nudity throughout!

It has to be said that this play was opening to possibly the hugest expectations a play could ever have - a world renowned playwright's first play in years, a world renowned director's last play at the National Theatre - it would be interesting to see how the exact same play and performances would be received in different context.

Furthermore... the play is tackling a subject which is in itself provocative and some of the reaction I've seen is based on scientific standpoints. I've seen reviews say its too academic not much emotion and I've seen the opposite too. 

Good art should get be talking so I hope there is more discussion on the themes ....and on performances than the direcor and playwritght, thought it is understandable why.

I am more interested in the non theatre critic elite, non male dominated, opinion - let's see what us good old "general public" think!


 I must admit that I'm becoming more and more intrigued by this....

I agree that the expectations were huge...and I did wonder if the critics might be quite hard to please.  For me, the fact that many reviews have mentioned 'Arcadia' shows a tendancy towards reviewing Tom Stoppard, and doing a comparison, rather that focussing on The Hard Problem in it's own right.

The science is inevitably going to be fairly superficial....the play is only 1hr 40 mins long! (another no interval play!) and it seems that science is not, in fact, it's primary focus. It apparently doesn't represent scientists in a particularly kindly way either....so I'm also not surprised that the scientists don't like it!  Although I have seen it described as 'thought provoking' from ordinary theatre goers on twitter..... I wonder if the philosophy behind it is more appealing to non-scientists?

As neither a theatre critic/Tom Stoppard aficionado or a scientist neither of these points of view feel particularly relevant to me and I agree that it matters far more what the general public make of it.  I don't go to the theatre to necessarily be educated and informed .....I go primarily to be entertained (although I concede that edification can be an important factor in entertainment!!)  And if you have ever previously given any thought to a plays themes....and whether or not you agree with the playwrite's viewpoint can hugely influence the way you experience it.

Which leads me neatly on to the entertainment factor!  It's curious that some have described the production as great entertainment - good fun - but others claim to have been bored to tears.....maybe that depends on just how much you enjoy seeing Damien in boxers?! (sorry - had to mention it somewhere didn't I?!)  It bothers me far more that, apart from Hilary, the characters have been described as 2 dimentional - although 'cocky', 'sardonic', 'likable' (and, conversely, loathsome), 'cheeky', 'pragmatic', 'hard-nosed' (sexy....well sculptured...) - all paint a pretty 3D picture in my mind (very pretty....)

I definately think that I will reserve judgement until I've seen it for myself....and I am still hugely looking forward to doing so.

 

Just an interesting little fact....more people have already seen 'The Hard Problem' than saw 'The Body of an American' in it's entire run....

 

 Sorry - that was meant to say more than twice as many people....

 

 

 



-- Edited by fifi on Saturday 31st of January 2015 12:40:33 PM



-- Edited by fifi on Saturday 31st of January 2015 07:33:35 PM

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Enjoyed reading your ponderings fifi, and wow, that fact is quite something! (and makes you think about all the performances yet to come!)

I'm noticing contradictory opinions on the play  - some calling it too intellectual, hard to follow and inaccessible, some saying it's more about the emotonal story and predictable.

I get the comments on the characters, but they seem to be based on their standing on the debate the play is about...and a character does not need to be likeable to be well played and galvinsing to watch... (and likeability in the context of this play also depends I would imagine on the belief system of each individual audience member). I want to hear more about the performances, Damien's especially.. not just about his hard abdomen.

Having said that... he is January's Theatre Hottie !!!



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DMF
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I like this review. Damien's performance is praised but it does sound like Spike is a hard character to warm too!

"Damien Molony gives a strong, straight-talking performance that complements Olivia Vinall’s naïve Hilary in a way that makes their scenes easily the most engaging and substantial throughout."

 

THE HARD PROBLEM: SCIENTISTS BEHAVING BADLY | Train Of Brain



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Damiac
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Wow.. Praising continues! And no wonder, Damien is truly amazing, I can't wait to see him on stage. I also like little detail in those pics where they are sitting down and he is only one who have take off his shoes. He creates sort of realistic pic that he is relaxed. Once again he mist take the control of the "room" (well in this case, stage) and use all the tools that are given.

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JozieMozie wrote:

Wow.. Praising continues! And no wonder, Damien is truly amazing, I can't wait to see him on stage. I also like little detail in those pics where they are sitting down and he is only one who have take off his shoes. He creates sort of realistic pic that he is relaxed. Once again he mist take the control of the "room" (well in this case, stage) and use all the tools that are given.


 Well said Jozie Not long now until you see the play and all Damien's talents on the stage! curtains



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Positive review from broadstreetreview.com



Tom Stoppard’s ‘The Hard Problem’ at London’s National Theatre

Solving a hard problem

Carol Rocamora

February 03, 2015

 

 

“Don’t you believe in good, Spike?”

Who bothers to ask questions like that in the theater today? Who dares to? Who cares to? Tom Stoppard, of course, the George Bernard Shaw of our times.

hJY4qCGQ-710-398.jpg
Neurons and synapses: Olivia Vinall as Hilary. (Photo by Johan Persson)

Sir Tom is one of those rare playwrights who belong to the tradition of “theater of ideas.” They are few and far between — Shakespeare, Chekhov, and Pirandello are others — and their works are richly philosophical and deeply humanistic.

All the more reason, then, to welcome a new play by Sir Tom, especially after a hiatus of almost a decade (his last play, Rock’n’Roll,premiered in 2006). It’s his first play at the Royal National Theatre since 2002, when his trilogyCoast of Utopia was performed. A nine-hour epic on Russian intellectual history that went on to Lincoln Center, it attracted stars like Ethan Hawke and Billy Crudup (and a stellar cast of dozens) to forego film commitments and spend a season performing before packed houses.

So anticipation ran high for the world premiere of The Hard Problem in the newly renovated Dorfman Theatre at the National. The revelation? Instead of a nine-hour treasure trove, this time Stoppard is offering a 90-minute jewel — one that, in the tradition of theater of ideas, will challenge you to think as well as feel.

The mystery of consciousness

The Hard Problem follows Hilary, a young psychology researcher at a brain research institute, over a period of nine years, as she grapples with challenging questions that are scientific, philosophical, and personal. We first see her challenging her pragmatic mentor, Spike (who is also her lover) on topics related to the so-called “hard problem” (named by David Chalmers, an Australian philosopher, regarding the mystery of consciousness.) She trying to connect the dots between consciousness, human motivation, and “doing good” — and she won’t give up. Over a dozen scenes, as Hilary’s career flourishes, an ensemble of nine other characters join in an ongoing debate on related issues, including Cartesian dualism, moral relativism vs. moral absolutism, altruism vs. egoism, miracle vs. coincidence, and the essential difference between the terms “brain” and “mind.”

Sounds heady? Of course it is. After all, it’s a Tom Stoppard play. Stoppardian characters are born to ask questions, like: “Can a computer do what a brain can do?,,” “Is there such a thing as coincidence?,” or “Is God the ‘last man standing’?” (the latter being the topic of one of Hilary’s academic papers). It’s what his characters love to do. As Valentine, a young scholar in Stoppard’s masterpiece Arcadia, explains: “It’s the best possible time to be alive, when everything you thought you knew is wrong.”

What makes The Hard Problem moving as well as engaging is the conflation of the intellectual and the personal. Hilary has another “hard problem” — a deeply personal secret in her past that haunts her, sending her down on her knees every night to pray. “Why are you praying?” her lover/mentor Spike asks, bewildered. “I’m praying for a miracle,” she replies. Like Arcadia, The Hard Problemfunctions like a mystery as well, as clues to Hilary’s secret (a child she had at 15 and gave up for adoption) are planted in scene after scene until the play’s unexpected conclusion.

Resolve and vulnerability

Stoppard portrays strong, appealing women, such as the brilliant Thomasina and the determined Hannah in Arcadia, the passionate Natalie Herzen in Coast of Utopia. Here, the character of Hilary joins their ranks, played with a touching mixture of resolve and vulnerability by Olivia Vinall. She leads an able cast, including Damien Molony as her pragmatic paramour and Anthony Calf as the tough-minded financier of her research institute.

Sir Nicholas Hytner, the National’s outgoing artistic director, has staged The Hard Problem with clarity and simplicity. The dozen scenes are bridged by sparkling strains of Bach’s piano music. Above Bob Crowley’s spare, stylish set hangs an abstract tangle of wires, representing the neurons and synapses of the brain, through which colored lights course as the music plays. The result is a pristine harmony of form and content, of scenic and sound elements, in this elegant investigation of the workings of the mind and heart.

The playbill of the National Theatre includes an exchange of letters written between Stoppard and Richard Dawkins, an evolutionary biologist, on the topic of altruism and “doing good” — a correspondence that contributed to the birth of this play. Reading these letters, one is struck by the passionate and abiding commitment to the life of the mind that this Renaissance playwright has.

I imagine that the questions raised by this scintillating play will remain in our own minds long after the lights go down. After all, as Hannah says in Arcadia: ““It’s wanting to know that makes us matter, otherwise we’re going out the way we came in.”



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theatre

Have any Molonians out there seen Damien's play yet?

we'd love to hear what you think!



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