Hapgood at Hampstead Theatre
“A spy movie should not aim to surprise the watcher, instead it should from the beginning reveal the double agent as the man you suspected from the start.” But does writer Tom Stoppard maintain the advice of his character within his script? Hapgood is peppered with so many twists and double bluffs that one is left to wonder who is the target of these clandestine activities, the suspect, the protagonist or the audience? As for who to suspect: everyone!
Spymaster Elizabeth Hapgood (Lisa Dillon) is in trouble: an exchange gone wrong leaves her and her friend/superior Paul Blair (Tim McMullan) questioning the nature of a double agent – a man with a secret agenda or a secret partner in crime. Working together, the two weave an inexorable web of smoke screens and mirrors to out the rat, a feat Dillon and McMullan achieve with effortless British wit and sarcasm that never fails to move the audience into ripples of laughter. Dillon commands the stage and her dubious band of spies with elegance. Both double agent/Russian scientist Kerner (Alec Newman) and rough-and-ready London spy Ridley (Gerald Kyd) take fantastically to their roles as mysterious agents with questionable motives, fully immersing the audience into the mystifying world of espionage.
Alongside the humour there are some beautiful moments in Stoppard’s play. There is a current of duality that runs throughout: the motherhood of Hapgood at home to a son who doesn’t know his father, mirrored in her motherhood as spymaster; the plot of the bluff structured through the scientific principle of light particles and wave structure that Russian double agent Kerner is researching. There are touching scenes of friendship and betrayal culminating in a dramatic and highly choreographed finish that shows the skill of the production crew behind it.
Though the play was criticised originally for being unintelligible in its scientific complexities and multiple double bluffs, director Howard Davies has done a commendable job at showcasing the captivating originality and charmingly humorous nature of Stoppard’s play. Ashley Martin-Davis’s impressive set with disorienting doors lends itself to the fluidity of the scenes unfolding seamlessly on stage.
A superb revival of a unique scientific spy thriller by an excellent cast.
Hapgood is on at Hampstead Theatre from 4th December 2015 until 23rd January 2016, for further information or to book visit here.
Watch an interview with writer Tom Stoppard here: