I can't say that Tom Stoppard's The Coast of Utopia thrilled me but I made it through all nine hours, and even enjoyed parts here and there. His Rock ’n’ Roll, on the other hand, is an utter wash. Its combination of smug and irremediable blandness actually made me angry.
Stoppard charts the parallel lives of an established British communist (Brian Cox, blowhardy) and a Czech diffident dissident (Rufus Sewell, transparent). As usual he throws heady intellectual material into a blender but nothing of substance emerges. It's just not enough to have your characters spout impassioned speeches about ideas: You need to turn them into drama. As it is, watching the play is like watching old ideas congeal into an unappetizing slop—chicken soup for the complacent.
Trevor Nunn's direction does not help in the least—it's a bland tapioca pudding not unlike his King Lear at BAM. Apparently Stoppard's stage directions include "smash cuts" between scenes, i.e. rapid transitions. Nunn handles them by projecting basic information about whatever song is being played on a large screen. This has the opposite result of what I assume Stoppard intended and only breaks the flow, such as it is; it's hard for any scene to get jump-started after that.
And rarely has a show's title been so woefully misleading: There's no pulse on this stage, let alone a beat, let alone any sense of antiestablishment rage. Quite the opposite: Rock ’n’ Roll only flatters the so-called-intellectual establishment and caters to its aesthetic prejudices. It ends with the Rolling Stones, but not the Rolling Stones of 1969—the Rolling Stones of 1990. This is a statement in and of itself.
For another take on this turgid piece of synapse masturbation, please check out this piece in Encore, a British online theater magazine I'm adding to my blog roll posthaste. (Thanks to David Cote for the tip.)
Finally, need I point out that judging by the photo above, Prague's Museum of Communism is next to a casino?