(Lucy Campbell’s article appeared in he Guardian, 8/31; Photo: The playwright seen in the Imagine episode Tom Stoppard: A Charmed Life, in which he is interviewed by Alan Yentob. Photograph: Stephen Robinson/BBC Studios.)
Playwright, born in Czechoslovakia, talks of his gratitude to UK for saving him from a life under communism
Sir Tom Stoppard has revealed how his staunch criticism of communist regimes in his plays, born out of his own past as a Jewish child refugee from Czechoslovakia, set him at odds with the “lively” leftwing strain of the UK theatre scene.
His passionate defence of writers and journalists under threat by communist and totalitarian regimes, as well as his pride in being British, did little to endear him to some parts of the British theatre establishment, Stoppard told the Radio Times.
“There was a very strong, lively, leftwing side to English life and particularly English theatre. At some point I began to resent my sanctuary [in Britain] being pissed on by everybody I knew. Thanks a bunch. You know, [without the UK] I would have been in Communist Czechoslovakia now!”
Stoppard, 84, told interviewer Alan Yentob he finally addresses a long-neglected aspect of his life in his latest and most personal play, Leopoldstadt, which has returned to the West End after a pandemic-induced hiatus.
The play centres on the unease of not quite belonging, which reflects Stoppard’s upbringing – along with subsequently growing up reconstituted as a proud Englishman and knowing little about his heritage.
“I make an appearance [in the play] as a young Englishman, Leo,” Stoppard said. The character, Leonard, had been, before his childhood escape from the Jewish quarter of Vienna before the war, a European Jew called Leopold, who doesn’t know his own history: “In Vienna they say to him, ‘By the way, what is it with Leonard? Your name was Leopold. Too Jewish? You know you had another name and you are the continuation of that person.’”