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Tom Stoppard’s Leopoldstadt – and So True returns

I knew we’d have to suffer for the glorious warm days we had in October – but not this much! It’s bitterly cold here. The sun is shining but the wind is cruel; I was nearly blown off my bike. Luckily, however, I have new lined pants from Uniqlo. So a warm tush.

Thrill on Sunday: the National Theatre Live production of Tom Stoppard’s Leopoldstadt, at Cineplex. Stoppard, raised as a proper Brit, was unaware until late in life of the extent of his Jewish roots and that much of his family died in the Holocaust. He has painted a portrait of an upper-middle class Jewish family in Vienna, from 1899 to 1955. You can imagine what happens to them, nearly all. 

The beginning of the play is bewildering, the usual Stoppard flow of dense facts and pithy statements, exposition disguised as dialogue, as we struggle to keep up not only with the river of talk but with the huge 30-person cast – who’s that again?  

The play centres around identity, belonging, prejudice, and blood – some characters desperate to assimilate, others to remain true to their cultural and religious heritage. I thought once more of my dad, who rejected everything to do with the religion he was born into yet was most relaxed and himself with Jewish friends and family. 

The last act is devastating. A callow young Englishman, Stoppard’s obvious doppelganger, comes to terms with the fate of his ancestors as he hears the litany at the end: “Auschwitz, suicide, death march, Auschwitz, Auschwitz … ” as the cast assembles and stands behind him, like an old family photograph in sepia light – unforgettable. Stunning. Many tears. I hope National Theatre Live puts it on again. 

A seder, early in the play. Even the lighting was sublime. 

Good news for me today: an essay about housing in big cities, and our vile premier’s plan to pave over the Greenbelt, was accepted by the Star. I’ve had a series of no’s from various mags and newspapers, so a yes at last meant a great deal. I know, you just have to keep sending out, over and over again, but sometimes there’s the impulse to shout, Why bother?! And then someone says yes. 

And more good news – after these long Covid years, I’m getting some of my mojo back and have decided to run another of the So True reading events – where writer student friends read their best work in front of an audience. I’d thought the venue – the Social Capital, above the Black Swan on the Danforth – had closed down, but no, it’s running full tilt again. So we will run with it, sometime in February, eight wonderful true stories plus our cheerful and adorable Jason as MC and something from moi. Stay tuned.



2 Responses to “Tom Stoppard’s Leopoldstadt – and So True returns”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Stoppard is always interesting, even when the actual play ultimately doesn't quite do it for me. We saw The Hard Problem in London in 2015 (I think you saw it too?) and I was very glad we were able to get tickets, even though we wandered back to our flat sharing everything we disliked about it. But we talked about it for days. That image is so beautiful, by the way.

  2. beth says:

    Didn't see that play, but yes, he is often so cerebral as to be nearly impenetrable. And yet clever, witty, grasping for the deepest subjects. This one begins in his enormous brain but eventually moves down to his heart and gut. And ours.

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I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

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