I picked this up right after I typed my review for Juliet, Naked, partly because it was a very thin volume. 45 minutes later, I had finished it, but I am still a little bit confused as to what this play was about. I mean, there is an insane detective named Inspector Foot, and some wonderful dialogue sprung up from his name that almost reminded me of Arrested Development. Foot is investigating the home of Harris and Thelma, because he believes they have done something horrible to a member of a minstrel show’s company. I honestly can’t describe the rest of it.
There must be some key to understanding the goings-on in this book. If there’s no little piece of information that I’m missing, I’m afraid I’m just insane. Because the absolute nonsense is almost all I can remember. The house only has one lightbulb, for reasons unexplained, Harris forgets that his mother is not actually Thelma’s mother, and so on. I can only imagine that watching it in person would at least add a kind of visual art to everything onstage. At an already very slim 38 pages of text, this was at least three quarters stage directions. There was so much movement and chaos in this show that it must be gorgeous on stage. It has to be, because I don’t understand why else Tom Stoppard would depart from the usual majesty of his work to write this.
All complaints about complete and utter chaos aside, this is a Stoppard play, and the dialogue will always be a step up from the norm. Characters will spout beautiful poetry that makes perfect sense out of their mouths, and the complexities of the English language will always get some attention when a play on words causes confusion. My favourite line in the play is the aforementioned play on Foot, when Harris says “Is there something wrong with your foot, Foot? Inspector, foot?” Stoppard has always treated the language like a playground, and the results are no less effective here than in his better known works.
I honestly don’t know if I can recommend this book or not. I guess if you’re really interested in imagining the whole thing unfold, it would be worth reading. If you’re approaching it for the dense and beautiful comedy Stoppard is known for, just go re-read Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. It’s certainly still my favourite Stoppard. But The Coast of Utopia is on the bookshelf, waiting to be read later this year. So we’ll see what happens.