A new Tom Stoppard play, set in Vienna during the first half of the 20th century, is to receive its world premiere in London’s West End early next year.
Called Leopoldstadt,after the city's Jewish quarter, the play centres on three generations of a Jewish family. Described as “an intimate drama with an epic sweep”, Patrick Marber will direct the work which is produced by Sonia Friedman, the same team that revived Stoppard’s 1974 play Travesties in 2017.
“We are in Vienna between 1899 and 1955”, said Marber speaking exclusively to the JC. “It’s a play about a Jewish family through time. And of course, as you would expect with a Stoppard play, it is multi-themed, and one of those themes is antisemitism.”
In 1900, Vienna was the centre of culture in Europe. A tenth of the population were Jewish, partly the result of Jews being granted full civil rights by Emperor, Franz Josef a generation earlier. Hundreds of thousands fled the Pale and pogroms and many settled in Vienna’s old Jewish quarter, Leopoldstadt.
“My grandfather wore a caftan, my father went to the opera in a top hat and I have the singers over to dinner,” says factory owner Hermann, one of the characters in the play nearly half a century before the Holocaust.
Much of Stoppard’s family died in the Holocaust. His parents fled Moravia in 1939 and lived in Singapore. However, the play is not necessarily a direct response to today’s antisemitism, says Marber. “I would say it is as much concerned with Tom’s past and his escape from Czechoslovakia as a boy. I think it’s a very personal play in many respects.” Yet the director does see parallels with today.
The play “feels incredibly important now,” says Marber. “And of course, as a Jew, a Stoppard play about antisemitism goes straight to the heart. For as along as I have been alive since 1964, I don’t think there has been a decade when there wasn't a feeling antisemitism was coming back.
"I don’t remember a decade as a Jew feeling, ‘Oh yes, that’s over now, that period of history.’ [But] it does feel particularly potent at the moment it has to be said. I think we all feel that.”
The work is a big ensemble play says Marber. “Think Arcadia, Coast of Utopia more than Invention of Love. It’s a big company play which as a director is incredibly exciting to do. It’s got the lot”
“He hasn’t written that many plays with a family structure. I think this is the first time he has really addressed it with parents, children, then the child grown up, and that child’s child. It’s very moving.
"Tom’s 81 years old and it’s an inspiration for me personally as a playwright that you can keep going. He still has the energy, the bravura force, wit and brilliance of Tom from any period in his writing life.”