Monday, 21 December 2015

Theatre review: Hapgood

Howard Davies looks around the Tom Stoppard back catalogue and finds something of an oddity in Hapgood, a Cold War spy drama that opens with a dead letter drop in a swimming pool's changing rooms, with multiple briefcases and identically-dressed men making it look less like an exchange of secrets, more like a game of Find the Lady. Hapgood, codenamed Mother (Lisa Dillon,) is the British spymaster in charge of this operation, and when it goes Hapwrong it becomes obvious that someone on the team is betraying them. Suspicion seems to rest firmly on Ridley (Gerald Kyd,) but Hapgood's boss Blair (Tim McMullan) seems to think he can only have done it if she was in on it too. Or maybe he doesn't suspect her at all - the characters are all constantly trying to trip each other up in a series of traps and bluffs.

The other main suspect is Kerner (Alec Newman,) a Russian scientist and spy who's been working as a double agent for Hapgood and withholding his full findings from Russia.


Hapgood's team is completed by the bumbling Merryweather (Edward Hancock) efficient Maggs (Nick Blakeley,) and meddling CIA man Wates (Gary Beadle,) and she juggles her job with being a single mother to Joe (Sasha Gray, alternating with Adam Cansfield.) Joe doesn't know who his father is, but it soon becomes clear it's somebody Hapgood works with, which only makes things go from Hapbad to Hapworse as she tries to find the mole.


Hapgood is a bit of a weird Stoppard play, it feels less like an earnest attempt and more like an homage to spy thrillers, its dialogue edging into cheese more than once - "You act like butter wouldn't melt in your knickers." Kyd's delivery doesn't exactly dispel this notion, including one honest-to-goodness Steven Toast-style "sweetheaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaart." Stoppard still can't resist displaying his intellectual credentials, although it's mostly played as a joke at the expense of Kerner, who can't explain a simple concept without using a lengthy, impenetrable metaphor about particle physics.


With the story winding itself up in a tangle of people who are actually twins, and twins who are actually one person, I did get the feeling that Davies' production, on a sleek modern set by Ashley Martin-Davis, is playing the retro spy capers straighter than intended. As for the script itself, I was a bit uncomfortable that Hapgood's relationship with most of her team seems to revolve around her either having slept with them, or possibly wanting to. Stoppard himself describes Hapgood as "an entertainment," and it's a Hapdecent enough one, but the production doesn't quite find the Hapright tone for it. In summary: Hapceptable.

Hapgood by Tom Stoppard is booking until the 23rd of January at Hampstead Theatre.

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes including interval.

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