The Invention of Love: just one long self-congratulatory Oxbridge display

ISOBEL COCKERELL is less than impressed by this production, but hey- there’s free wine at the interval!

Cambridge Cockerell Invention of Love Isobel Cockerell Oxbridge privilege Stoppard Trinity

Tom Stoppard’s 1997 play ‘The Invention of Love’ has been hailed, sycophantically by many as a masterpiece; his best work; etc. As a devoted Stoppard fan, I couldn’t disagree more. The play is an overlong, laborious, verbose example of the playwright at his most tiresome and self-indulgent.

The performance was held in the grand setting of Trinity’s Old Combination Room – fitting and ironic for a play that is essentially an ode to Oxford peppered with put-downs about Cambridge. But also just adding to the sense that this was just one long self-congratulatory Oxbridge display.

The only props were a punt, a few croquet mallets and a picnic basket. Vast swathes of dialogue and monologue, all in that patronizing, holier-than-thou Stoppardian prose, were all that held up the rest of the piece. Needless to say it was fairly trying.

There is nothing less dramatic in a play than endless stagnant conversation, and when Stoppard gets going, he really does witter on and tempus non fugit. 

For Stoppard’s ponderings to really carry any weight – or, indeed, lightness – they must be conveyed by very engaging and intelligent acting. Unfortunately, this was not, on the whole, the case. One got the sense occasionally that the actors didn’t have a clue what they were on about – which meant, of course, that the audience didn’t either.

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The play is about the life of poet A.E Hausman, who was played convincingly by Seth Kruger, who had got the aesthete stammer down to a tee. If he had been supported more strongly, the show might have been a success.

As it was, the atmosphere was heavy and listless, and the performance felt a little amateurish, particularly given the vast, overarching themes of the play.

There was one particular scene in which Kruger really shone, in which he declares his lifelong love for his friend, and it is almost the only moment in the entire performance where there was any truthfulness of emotion.

Relief also came in the form of Daniel Unruh, who played Jowett, a jovial and fruity Oxford academic, while Mini Smith’s portrayal of Oscar Wilde was charming and engaging without descending into parody.

But ultimately, more than anything else it was the free wine in the interval (because Trinity) that really kept the action flowing.

Score 55%: A mediocre 2:2