Thursday 17 October 2019

Sir Tom Stoppard: World events have made play-writing difficult for me

He made the comments as he was awarded the David Cohen Prize For Literature.

Lord Snowdon Service of Thanksgiving
Lord Snowdon Service of Thanksgiving

By Sherna Noah, Press Association Senior Entertainment Correspondent

Sir Tom Stoppard, who has been described as Britain’s great living dramatist, has admitted that tumultuous world events have made it difficult to write a new play.

The 80-year-old, who has written prolifically for TV, radio, film and the stage, followed in the footsteps of Harold Pinter, Hilary Mantel and Seamus Heaney on Wednesday night, as the winner of a £40,000 literature prize.

But he told the Press Association that Donald Trump, Brexit, climate change, and the rise of artificial intelligence and social media caused a headache when it came to putting pen to paper.

Sir Tom, who has been working on a film, said: “I haven’t actually tried to write a stage play for about three years. But I would like to now because I still feel that when I’m writing anything else, I’m pretty much a playwright out of work … It’s just what I grew up with.”

ARTS Pinter

But he added: “I have been seriously worrying about what kind of play I should be trying to write.

“I’m surrounded by huge, huge topics, really important topics, you could list them yourself and I’d have the same list.

“Theatre is a storytelling art form, and a topic is not a story.”

Asked if world events made crafting a play more difficult, he replied: “Yes, in a way.

“You feel you ought to be engaging in it and yet the subjects are so huge and so difficult to structure…”

“One feels some kind of disproportion between the subject and the medium.

“But I shouldn’t think that and in the dead of night I don’t think that. I think theatre is and can be and should be of great importance.”

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The Czech-born dramatist added: “It’s not writer’s block but a sense of inadequacy.”

Sir Tom, known for Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead and Rock ‘n’ Roll, has won the David Cohen Prize For Literature, which is awarded every two years.

The prize, now in its 25th year,  is announced in recognition of a living writer’s lifetime achievement in literature.

Judges said Sir Tom was “one of our very finest dramatists, if not the finest dramatist, who has created an outstanding and enduring body of unfailingly creative, innovative and brilliant work”.

Chairman of the judges Mark Lawson said: “Two decades after Harold Pinter was an early winner of the David Cohen Prize, the award marks its Silver Jubilee by honouring a second giant of 20th century British drama.”

Sir Tom, who believes the British stage is in a healthy place, said of his win: “I’m aware of what it means and I’m fantastically complimented by it.

“It wouldn’t be very healthy to sit down and take the cap off your pen and think to yourself ‘I’m a David Cohen Prize-winner, what am I going to write today?’ On the other hand it’s a boost, a fillip, it bucks you up.”

He joked: “You feel slightly sheepish because of all your peers but you get over that in about half a second.”

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