Books : reviews

Tom Stoppard.
Samuel French. 1988

Duality is the name of the game in Tom Stoppard's intricate spy thriller, seen at the AIdwych Theatre in 1988 starring Felicity Kendal, Nigel Hawthorne and Roger Rees, where double agents, duplicity, twins and quantum physics are inextricably bound together.

Hapgood runs a British counter-espionage agency in Mayfair and someone is leaking information to Moscow. Hapgood suspects Ridley, CIA agent Wates suspects Hapgood and head of British Intelligence, Blair suspects Russian physicist and double agent Joseph Kemer. Code-named Mother to her agents, Hapgood is also the mother of an eleven-year-old son at prep school, the result of an affair with her British “joe”, Kemer. It will need all of Hapgood's famed chess-expertise to reveal the mole in their midst.

Tom Stoppard.
Faber and Faber. 1993

In a large country house in Derbyshire in April 1809 sits Lady Thomasina Coverly, aged thirteen, and her tutor, Septimus Hodge. Through the window may be seen some of the ‘500 acres inclusive of lake’ where Capability Brown’s idealized landscape is about to give way to the ‘picturesque’ Gothic style: ‘everything but vampires’, as the garden historian Hannah Jarvis remarks to Bernard Nightingale when they stand in the same room 180 years later.

Bernard has arrived to uncover the scandal which is said to have taken place when Lord Byron stayed at Sidley Park.

Tom Stoppard’s absorbing play takes us back and forth between the centuries and explores the nature of truth and time, the difference between the Classical and the Romantic temperament, and the disruptive influence of sex on our orbits in life – ‘the attraction which Newton left out’.