Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Tom Stoppard’s best joke

In 1976 I heard the playwright Sir Tom Stoppard give a talk about writing. During the Q&A session at the end I asked him a very serious question about how he related music to drama, as he had just premiered Every Good Boy Deserves Favour, for which Andre Previn had composed the music. The play was revived at the National Theatre in London in 2010, and he discusses it in this Telegraph interview 
Someone else asked a question which the rest of the audience found much more gripping, as the questioner wanted to know how becoming a famous face, as well as a famous name, had changed the playwright’s life. I remember one of the examples he gave was that on more than one occasion his taxi driver had recognized him and had got into a long story about how he too wrote literature/poems/books/scripts/screenplays, and would Mr Stoppard like to read some of his work and he could drop it round at his house anytime no trouble at all.
I remembered this story just now as I was writing  a post  about how pantomimes in England date back to Elizabethan theatre customs, where the female character roles were played by male actors, and it reminded me of the boatman scene in Shakespeare in Love.
In his screenplay for Shakespeare in Love, his clever and witty story of Elizabethan theatrical intrigues and love’s labours lost, he has the Shakespeare character take a boat along the Thames. Before the end of the trip, the boatman recognizes Shakespeare and explains how he too writes poetry and plays and he would love to show Mr Shakespeare his work.
 
While you are in a Shakespeare frame of mind, here’s a fragment from the Sonnet number 1:
From fairest creatures we desire increase,

That thereby beauty's rose might never die,

But as the riper should by time decease,

His tender heir might bear his memory

I took this from a site where you can read his sonnets for free

Tom Stoppard has probably told his taxi driver story many times to many audiences, and I am sure those listeners will have taken as much pleasure as I at seeing how he slips in such a funny idea into the screenplay, imagining how Shakespeare might have shared his own experience of the price of fame.


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