Books

Grove Press
Grove Press
Grove Press

Rock ‘n’ Roll

by Tom Stoppard

“Stoppard’s exciting new play of immutable passions and mutable politics, Rock ‘n’ Roll . . . is so flush with feeling that it never seems to stop trembling. . . . Stoppard locates the very rhythm of life. . . . [His] most emotionally generous play.” —Ben Brantley, The New York Times

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 144
  • Publication Date August 01, 2007
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-4307-5
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $14.00
  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Publication Date December 01, 2007
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-9536-4
  • US List Price $14.00

About The Book

Tom Stoppard’s Rock ‘n’ Roll is an electrifying collision of the romantic and the revolutionary. It is 1968 and the world is ablaze with rebellion, accompanied by a sound track of the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan. Clutching his prized collection of rock albums, Jan, a Cambridge graduate student, returns to his homeland of Czechoslovakia just as Soviet tanks roll into Prague. When security forces tighten their grip on artistic expression, Jan is inexorably drawn toward a dangerous act of dissent. Back in England, Jan’s volcanic mentor, Max, faces a war of his own as his free-spirited daughter and his cancer-stricken wife attempt to break through his walls of academic and emotional obstinacy. Over the next twenty years of love, espionage, chance, and loss, the extraordinary lives of Jan and Max spin and intersect until an unexpected reunion forces them to see what is truly worth the fight.

Both moving and funny, Stoppard’s passionate tour de force explores a world of betrayals and hopes to find something lasting, true, and free underneath.

Praise

“Extraordinary, epic drama of politics, persecution, and protest.” —Nicholas de Jongh, The Evening Standard

“Tom Stoppard has written one of the great political plays in the English language. . . . It has a moving, throat-catching intensity. . . . This play shows him at his combative and tolerant best.” —John Peter, The Sunday Times (London)

“Stoppard’s exciting new play of immutable passions and mutable politics, Rock ‘n’ Roll . . . is so flush with feeling that it never seems to stop trembling. . . . Stoppard locates the very rhythm of life. . . . [His] most emotionally generous play.” —Ben Brantley, The New York Times

“Astonishing . . . There is an energy, rawness, and passion here one doesn’t associate with the elegant and witty Stoppard, passages of unbuttoned emotion that go straight to the heart. . . . This new piece smells, well, of sex and drugs and rock ‘n’ roll.” —Charles Spencer, The Daily Telegraph

“Astonishing . .. [Rock ‘n’ Roll] touches on so many themes, registers its lament at the erosion of freedom in our society and yet leaves you cheered by its wit, buoyancy and belief in the human spirit.” —Michael Billington, The Guardian

“In Rock ‘n’ Roll, Tom Stoppard is talking about revolution. Political revolution, revolution in consciousness—and rpm. In his most fully rounded, juiciest play since Arcadia, he has put on stage 25 years of Czech history, Leftist disappointment and rock music.” —Susannah Clapp, The Observer (London)

Awards

2006 Evening Standard Theater Award for Best Play

Excerpt

Act One

Blackout.

THE PIPER is heard.

Then, night in the garden. The Piper is squatting on his heels high up on the garden wall, his wild dark hair catching some light, as though giving off light. His pipe is a single reed like a penny whistle. He plays for ESME, who is sixteen, a flower child of the period: 1968.

Light from the interior catches Esme dimly, her flowing garment, her long golden hair.

The interior shows part of a dining room, lowly lit by a lamp. There is a walk-through frontier between the room and the “unlit” garden, which is leafy with a stone-flagged part large enough for a garden table and two or three chairs.

The Piper pipes the tune and then sings.

THE PIPER
“Lean out of your window,
Golden Hair,
I heard you singing
In the midnight air.
My book is closed,

I read no more . . .”

JAN enters the interior from within, going to the garden, into the spill of light. He is twenty-nine. His Czech accent is not strong.

The Piper laughs quietly to himself and vanishes, a spring-heeled jump into dark.

ESME
Who’s that? Jan?

JAN (a greeting)
Ahoj. What are you doing?

ESME
Did you see him?

JAN
Who?

ESME
Pan!

JAN
Pan. Where?

ESME
There.

JAN
No. Did he have goat’s feet?

ESME
I couldn’t see. He played on his pipe and sang to me.

JAN
Very nice. Have you got any left?

ESME
Don’t believe me, then.

JAN
Who said I don’t believe you? I came to say goodbye to Max.

ESME
Where are you going?

JAN
Prague.

ESME
Why? Oh, yeah. What about the summer teach-in? Will you come back to Cambridge?

JAN (shrugs: don’t know)
I’m leaving everything here.

ESME
Your records?

JAN
No. Everything else. But now I must go home.

ESME
What, to help the Russians?

JAN
No.

ESME
Max thinks it’s great about the Russians.

JAN
No, he doesn’t. We don’t.

ESME
Ha—some Communists you are!

Overheard by MAX, coming from indoors. He’s nearly fifty-one, a bruiser.

MAX
Go to bed, you . . . flower child.

ESME
I’d like to go to Prague, poke flowers into the ends of their gun barrels.

JAN
I’m glad I saw you, Esme.

ESME
Peace and love, Jan. I want to give you something to take.

JAN
What something?

ESME
I don’t know. Come and see before you go. Will you?

JAN
Yes.

ESME
In case you die. Peace and love, Pa.

MAX
Wouldn’t that be nice? Keep your pop groups down, Mum’s just managed to get off.

ESME (mocks)
“Pop groups . . .”

She goes into the house.

MAX (uncharmed)
Sweet sixteen.

JAN
So. Some sunny day. Thank you.

Jan hesitates, starts to go. Max turns dangerous.

MAX
Sovereignty was never the point. You know that.

JAN (cautious, calming)
Okay.

MAX
Being Czech, being Russian—German, Polish—fine, vive la diff’rence, but going it alone is going against the alliance, you know this.

JAN
Okay.

MAX
It’s comfort and joy to capitalism, comfort and joy, and your bloody Dubcek did this, not the Soviets—I speak as one who’s kicked in the guts by nine-tenths of anything you can tell me about Soviet Russia.

JAN
Why have you stayed in the Party?

MAX
Because of the tenth, because they made the revolution and no one else.

JAN
So okay.

MAX
Prague bloody Spring? It was never about the workers.

JAN
(Okay.)

MAX
No, it’s not okay, you little squit. I picked you out. I put my thumbprint on your forehead. I said, “You. I’ll take you,” because you were serious and you knew your Marx . . . and at the first flutter of a Czech flag you cut and run like an old woman still in love with Masaryk.

JAN
Dubcek is a Communist.

MAX (roused)
No—I’m a Communist, I’d be a Communist with Russian tanks parked in King’s Parade, you mummy’s boy.

JAN (insists)
A reform Communist.

MAX
Like a nun who gives blow-jobs is a reform nun. I have to walk this off. Tell Esme to wait up for me, in case Eleanor wakes. Then fuck off back to Prague. I’m sorry about the tanks.

Blackout and “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” by Bob Dylan.

Smash cut into bright day in the same place, with Max there and ELEANOR already speaking. She is in her late forties. She sits at a garden table. She has her work with her.

ELEANOR
He said you knew him, he was a friend of Jan.

MAX (catching up)
He was Czech.

ELEANOR
He said to tell you Jan wasn’t coming back, he asked for his things. . . .

MAX
Who asked?

ELEANOR
Milos. Milan. I was a bit thrown at the time because I opened the door to him without my falsy and didn’t catch on till he kept staring at my face—he daren’t drop his eyes, it scared him. Doesn’t she know she’s only got one tit? I should keep a bow and arrow handy to put people at their ease—yes, it’s toxophily, the big T, irreversible, thank you, no sacrifice is too great.

Max silenced, to her name.

MAX
Eleanor.

ELEANOR
He was sucking on a lozenge, he offered me one, gazing into my eyes and breathing eucalyptus at me like a koala caught in the headlights.

Max perhaps touches her face.

MAX
He was probably staring for the same reason as me the first time I . . . It was never your, your breast, it was always your face. I love your face.

ELEANOR
You loved my tits, that’s why breasts is plural.

MAX
It makes no difference, you know.

ELEANOR
Well, it does to me!

MAX
Yes—yes, of course it does, I only meant . . . you know, it makes no (difference).

He makes to hold her, Eleanor fights him off, tearfully angry.

ELEANOR
If it makes no difference, Max, you don’t have to stop making love to me from behind, it’s all right—all right?

Suddenly in freefall, they clutch, competing in apology and comfort.

MAX (finally)
My Amazon. Just don’t lose half your bum, that’s all.

She wipes her eyes, fails at a laugh, blows her nose.

ELEANOR
I had Amazons in my doctorate . . . false etymologies. Mazos, a breast; amazos, breastless. It makes sense if you’re Greek, but the Amazons weren’t Greek and didn’t speak Greek, so I said the one-breast thing was a language glitch and quite late—nothing about being a tit short in Homer, only killer feminists all round, and vase painters did two-breasted Amazons—case proved, done and dusted. And now this. It makes you wonder. Anyway, I’ve got my Sapphist showing up. . . .

MAX (protests)
You’re on sick leave.

ELEANOR
So she’s coming here, (a quick kiss) It’s all right now.

MAX
Eleanor. Um, why did he ask you, the eucalyptus lozenge man?

ELEANOR
You weren’t here.

MAX
Why would I be here?

ELEANOR
Oh, and someone from BBC Radio—

MAX
I’d be in College.

ELEANOR
The Czechs have agreed to a temporary occupation, and did you want to comment et cetera?

MAX (laughs)
I bet they have.

ELEANOR
Anyway, I said no, you didn’t.

MAX
I wouldn’t have minded.

ELEANOR
You would. Max Morrow putting the other side . . . it’d be Christmas come early for every ex-Communist who dreams about you.

Doorbell.

ELEANOR (cont.)
That’s her.

MAX
Esme’s there.

Faint music—the Rolling Stones’ High Tide and Green Grass album.

MAX (cont.)
The “other side” needs putting. You can’t teach the West anything about occupation.

ELEANOR
That’s a bit subtle for some—tanks is tanks and it’s on TV, so just do what you did last time when they occupied Hungary.

MAX
What did I do?

ELEANOR
Ate shit and shut up.

ESME (distant)
Mum!

ELEANOR (bawls)

I know! (to Max) I’m a frightened woman. That’s all it is. I’m sorry.

ESME (closer)
Mum. . . .!

ELEANOR (calls)
All right! (to Max) It’s my Sappho tutorial. Do you mind?

Esme pops in and straight out, wearing a red-leather bomber jacket.

ESME (voice down)
Lezzie lesson. . .

ELEANOR (calls after her)
In here! Remind me to clout her. Do I look all right?

MAX (looks)
All present and correct.

ELEANOR
I mean my face—

MAX
(Oh. . . .)

ELEANOR
—do I look as if I’ve been crying?

MAX
No. Sorry, I’m (sorry)—(letting go, angrily) I’m down to one belief, that between theory and practice there’s a decent fit—not perfect but decent: ideology and a sensible fair society, it’s my double helix and I won’t be talked out of it or done out of it or shamed out of it. We just have to be better.

GILLIAN, a student who dresses “sensibly,” carrying books, etc., comes into the garden uncertainly. Max ignores her, goes past her into the house. Eleanor greets Gillian and smiles her into the second chair.

A door slams: Max leaving the house.

Esme’s music becomes louder. Eleanor excuses herself and goes into the house. Gillian puts on her glasses and gets out her essay.

Esme’s music cuts out.

Eleanor and Esme are heard rowing briefly.

Eleanor returns to her place.

ELEANOR
Right. Off you go.

GILLIAN
It’s Fragment 130.

ELEANOR
Eros the knee-trembler.

GILLIAN (reads)
“Eros deute mío lusimeles donei glukupikron amachanon orpeton. . .”

“Eros, once more, loosens my limbs, stirs me, bitter-sweet naughty boy—”

ELEANOR
(Naughty?)

GILLIAN
“—he steals in.”

ELEANOR
And why not “sweet-bitter”?

GILLIAN
“The interesting word here is Sappho’s invention glukupikron, sweet-bitter, with no known. . .”

ELEANOR
Really, Gillian? It’s a nice compound, but the interesting word here is amachanon. Naughty doesn’t get near it. What’s the root?

GILLIAN

I . . . Machan. . .?

ELEANOR
Right. Machan. Think “machine. . .”

GILLIAN (confused)
(Think-machine?)

ELEANOR
. . . contrivance, device, instrument, in a word, technology. So, a-machanon—un-machine, non-machine. Eros is amachanon, he’s spirit as opposed to machinery, Sappho is making the distinction. He’s not naughty, he’s—what? Uncontrollable. Uncageable.

GILLIAN (bursts out)
But I think I’ve found a precedent for glukupikron!

ELEANOR (pause)
Really? Try me.

GILLIAN (gathers herself) “. . . Sappho’s invention glukupikron, sweet-bitter, with no known precedent. Or is there? The lacuna in front of pikros, Fragment 88a, line 19, is suggestive—”

ELEANOR
Have you been to look?

GILLIAN
Look?

ELEANOR
At the papyrus. It’s in Oxford in the Ashmolean.

GILLIAN
No.

ELEANOR
Well, I have. If that’s a lacuna I’m a monkey’s uncle—

But Gillian has broken—she gathers up her stuff in a rush, failing to keep back her tears, and leaves the way she came . . . passing Esme entering.

ESME (reproaching Eleanor)
Mum . . .!

ELEANOR
There isn’t time . . .!

Blackout and “It’s All Over Now” by the Rolling Stones.

A smash cut to:

Prague. Office interior. A table, two chairs, a coffee cup, a plate of biscuits.

Jan sits facing his INTERROGATOR, a youngish middle-ranking bureaucrat.

The Interrogator has files to refer to.

INTERROGATOR
So, Doctor . . . Have a biscuit. They tell me your luggage consisted entirely—I mean entirely—of socially negative music.

JAN
Yes, I’m thinking of writing an article on socially negative music.

INTERROGATOR (deadpan)
Really? When our allies answered our call for fraternal assistance to save socialism in this country, thousands of Czechs and Slovaks who happened to be in the West decided to stay there. You, on the other hand, whom we requested to remain in Cambridge for Professor Morrow’s . . . “summer—” what?

JAN
“Teach-in.”

INTERROGATOR
“Summer titchin,” you rushed back to Prague. Why did you come home?

JAN
To save socialism.

INTERROGATOR
I’m afraid you’re not taking us seriously. You have one doctorate from Charles University and nearly a doctorate from Cambridge University, so you’re thinking two doctors must be cleverer than one official in the Ministry of the Interior. I take it you’re Jewish.

JAN
No, that’s not what—What?

INTERROGATOR (referring to a file)
You left Czechoslovakia just before the Occupation.

JAN
No, in April, for the summer term.

INTERROGATOR
The Occupation. The Nazis. Hitler.

JAN
Oh! Yes. Yes. The Occupation. Sorry.

INTERROGATOR
Because you were Jewish.

JAN
So it seemed.

INTERROGATOR
Well, are you or aren’t you?

JAN
Yes.

INTERROGATOR
Right. I don’t know why you make such a thing about it. So, a babe in arms, you left with your parents and spent the war in England.

JAN
Yes.

INTERROGATOR
And you came back here . . . with your mother in January 1948.

JAN
Yes. My father was killed in the war. My mother is still alive, in Gottwaldov.

INTERROGATOR
Strange for you, coming back. A little English schoolboy.

JAN
We always spoke Czech at home in England. And ate spanelske ptacky, knedliky, buchty. . . .

INTERROGATOR
But you haven’t had a biscuit! Help yourself.

JAN
Thanks. Actually, I won’t have one.

INTERROGATOR
You won’t have one?

JAN
I mean, I don’t want one, thank you.

INTERROGATOR
Go on, have a biscuit, there’s plenty.

JAN
It’s all right.

INTERROGATOR
So have one.

Jan takes a biscuit.

The Interrogator watches him eat it, smiling encouragingly.

INTERROGATOR (cont.)
Good?

JAN
Lovely.

INTERROGATOR
Lovely? It’s only a biscuit. They’re a bit stale, actually, don’t you think?

JAN
A bit.

INTERROGATOR
Lovely and stale, then, would you say?

JAN
If you like.

INTERROGATOR
There you are. It’s amazing. I can apparently make you do and say anything I want—yet when it comes to something simple, my failure . . . (He lifts and lets fall the thin file.) . . . is complete. It wasn’t much to ask in exchange for the privilege we allowed you . . . to establish friendly relations with your professor. . . .

JAN
(I did that.)
INTERROGATOR
(ignoring) . . . and make a report on his connections. . . .

JAN
I understand why you’re disappointed, but, you know, Cambridge is, well, it’s Cambridge, nothing happens there.

INTERROGATOR
How can you say that?

He picks up the thickest file.

INTERROGATOR (cont.)
Look at this.

JAN
Well . . . what is it?

INTERROGATOR
The file on you in Cambridge.

JAN
The file on me?

INTERROGATOR (opening the file)
For example, there was a guest lecture by Professor Vitak from Bratislava, and afterwards a small group adjourned to Professor Morrow’s house to continue the discussion.

JAN
I put that in.

INTERROGATOR
But not what was said.

JAN
It wasn’t interesting.

INTERROGATOR
What is interesting is not for you to decide. Here’s another one—a reception at the Cambridge Union Labour Club: evidently you thought it wasn’t interesting that a young woman, a Czech student of philology, made negative remarks about our policemen. (He opens the thin file.) So what do I read in your report? “Party for socialist students at Labour Club. Many toasts to fraternal solidarity.”

JAN
Well—okay—yes—but there was an ethical problem. Well, I’d been sleeping with her . . . I couldn’t possibly . . . she would have been called home before her finals.

INTERROGATOR
Unless she was following instructions.

JAN
Lenka? You’re kidding.

INTERROGATOR
Who knows? But you’d think that two or even one and a half doctors of philosophy would consider the possibility, (closing the file) You’re not clever, you’re simple. And if you’re not simple you’re complicated. We’re supposed to know what’s going on inside people. That’s why it’s the Ministry of the Interior. Are you simple or complicated? Have another biscuit.

JAN
Excuse me, but—

He stops and takes a biscuit, holds it.

JAN (cont.)
Thank you. Excuse me, but when will I get my records back?

INTERROGATOR
That’s what we’re here to talk about.

Blackout and “All Over Now” by the Plastic People of the Universe.

Optional: projections of photos of the Plastic People.

Smash cut to:

Prague. April 1969. Jan’s living room.

Jan is busying himself, putting beer on the table, looking through his record albums.

Jan’s record player is playing “Venus in Furs” by the Velvet Underground.

A lavatory flushes. FERDINAND, a young man about the same age as Jan, enters.

FERDINAND
That’s better.

JAN
How were the Beach Boys? Did they do “God Only Knows”?

FERDINAND
They did everything. What’s that?

JAN
Velvet Underground. “Venus in Furs.” What do you think?

FERDINAND
I don’t get it.

JAN
It’s okay. I’ll. . . .

Jan takes off the record and puts it reverently into its sleeve, which has a picture of a banana. Ferdinand looks through the other sleeves.

JAN (cont.)
Got given it by a girl in Cambridge last year. Andy Warhol did the banana.

FERDINAND (enviously)
You bastard . . . Sergeant Pepper, Cream, the Kinks. . . .

JAN
You’re welcome to come and make tapes any time.

FERDINAND (for the beer)
Thanks.

JAN
So, how were the Beach Boys?

FERDINAND
I have to say they were great. They dress like the children of apparatchiks but when they play you can’t argue with it. They dedicated “Break Away” to Dubcek. He was in the audience.

JAN
Dubcek was in the audience?!

FERDINAND
Well, he’s got nothing else to do now Hus’k’s taken his job. The Beach Boys live at the Lucerna! It’s a historic moment.

JAN
I suppose so. (takes his beer) Cheers.

FERDINAND
Cheers. The Beach Boys.

JAN
The Mothers of Invention. Cheers.

FERDINAND
The Stones.

JAN
The Rolling Stones live at the Lucerna.

FERDINAND
At Strahov!

JAN (in pain) Stop, stop. Should I put on a record?
FERDINAND
Why not?

JAN
So . . . why, erm . . . what are you up to, Ferdinand?

FERDINAND
Right now? Actually, I’m collecting signatures.

Ferdinand produces a single page. Jan reads it. It’s brief.

JAN
Right.

Jan gives it back and resumes choosing a record.

JAN (cont.)
Fugs or Doors?

FERDINAND
What?

JAN
Fugs or Doors?

FERDINAND
I don’t care.

JAN
Right.

FERDINAND
Dubcek was shunted aside still telling us the reforms are on track. He said it again last week. Are you listening?

JAN
Yes.

FERDINAND And now they’re stalling on the censorship thing just like they stalled on the trade (union thing). . . .

A blast of music obliterates Ferdinand. He jumps up and stops the record.

FERDINAND (cont.)
What are you doing?

JAN
Listening to the Doors—what are you doing?

FERDINAND
Well, forget the Doors for a minute. This concerns you. You’re a journalist.

JAN
I’m a university lecturer. I just write articles.

FERDINAND
That means you’re a journalist.

JAN
Okay, I’m a journalist, but nobody’s censoring me.

FERDINAND
Not up front, and that’ll be next.

JAN
You’re such a defeatist!

FERDINAND
I’m a defeatist?

JAN
You can’t face life without a guarantee. So you convince yourself everything’s going to end badly. But look—when the Russians invaded, you would have bet on mass arrests, the government in gaol, everything banned, reformers thrown out of their jobs, out of the universities, the whole Soviet thing, with accordion bands playing Beatles songs. I thought the same thing. I came back to save Rock ‘n’ Roll, and my mother actually. But none of it happened. My mum’s okay, and there’s new bands ripping off Hendrix and Jethro Tull on equipment held together with spit. I was in the Music F Club where they had this amateur rock competition. The Plastic People of the Universe played “Venus in Furs” from Velvet Underground, and I knew everything was basically okay.

FERDINAND
What the fuck are you (talking about)—?

JAN
I’m trying to tell you. For once this country found the best in itself. We’ve been done over by big powerful nations for hundreds of years but this time we refused our destiny.

FERDINAND
It’s not destiny, you moron, it’s the neighbours worrying about their slaves revolting if we get away with it.

JAN
Yes, and we scared the shit out of them—they thought they’d started World War Three. Because instead of some Czech stooge ready to take over like in Hungary in ’56, all there was was a handful of Stalinists in hiding from a reform movement that refused to roll over. Now they’re looking for the exit, and we’re still in charge of creating socialism with a human face.

FERDINAND
Except for Dubcek, you mean.

JAN
Dubcek’s a nice guy, but basically Cliff Richard—he had to go. Hus’k’ll keep the hardliners on the B side.

FERDINAND
I’m a bit—I feel a bit (dazed)—Let me tell you about defeatism. Defeatism is turning disaster into a moral victory.

JAN (getting angry)
Can’t you function unless you’re losing? Czechoslovakia is now showing the way—a Communist society with proper trade unions, legal system, no censorship—progressive rock. . . .

FERDINAND
They closed down your paper!

JAN
And we protested, and now we’re publishing again.

FERDINAND
With conditions.

JAN (dismissively)
That’s only about not being rude to the Russians—Hus’k’s a realist, keep them off our backs.

FERDINAND
So you won’t sign.

JAN
No.

Jan restarts the Velvet Underground record on the track “Waiting for the Man.” As Ferdinand walks out without a word.
. .

JAN (cont.) (shouts)
What you need to do, Ferdinand, is cheer up.

Blackout and “Waiting for the Man” continuing through amps.