“What you really need to bring is your heart with this play,” says Patrick Marber. “I would say it's the most openly emotional play that Tom has written. It's Tom's reckoning with his past.”
Marber, the director of Leopoldstadt, has known the show’s acclaimed playwright, Tom Stoppard, since 1995. A playwright himself, Marber’s first play Dealer’s Choice ran at London’s National Theatre during a time when Stoppard served on the board. “He was a supporter of the play. I got to meet him, which was a huge thrill. I was 30 or 31 and meeting the great Stoppard who was, already in the 90s, a legendary figure, someone I'd studied at school in university. And then, over a period of years, we had the odd lunch and we talked, we saw each other shows.” So began the long history between Stoppard and Marber.
However, the two did not work together until 2016 when Marber directed Travesties, which ran both in the West End and on Broadway. “The difference,” Marber explains, “between doing Travesties and Leopoldstadt has been huge, because Leopoldstadt is a new play. Travesties was a revival, and the intensity of the work in putting on a new play by Tom Stoppard is different: higher stakes, more anxiety, and small things to need to get right. It’s a much bigger company. And it's a play that takes place on a much larger scale than Travesties.”
“But,” Marber says about working with Stoppard, “it was still the same relationship.” That bond between Marber and Stoppard, built over more than three decades of lunches and letter-writing, laid the foundation for their collaboration on Leopoldstadt. “I would say where I wanted more, where I felt he hadn't given a character enough to say about a particular subject or a character died too early for my liking or dropped out of the play earlier than I felt they should. My view is the first draft is the first draft of the play. I think I got away with this with Tom because he respects me as a writer, and he felt that I was giving him both a directorial and a writerly opinion.” As Marber describes it, “it wasn't so much pushing back as it was pushing forward.”
With Leopoldstadt marking Stoppard’s 19th play to grace the Broadway stage, it arrives to audiences who may have an idea of what to expect from the playwright—but, according to Marber, the work may surprise Stoppard fans. “I think it's unlike a lot of Stoppard’s plays. You don't need to know about maths or science.” The director explains, “It’s a heartfelt, incredible play for a man in his 80s to have written. People usually slow down, and write chamber plays, but this is an orchestral piece.” Though Marber marks the differences between Leopoldstadt and Stoppard’s previous works, audiences will catch some nods to the playwright’s intellectual explorations through some of the drama’s more academic characters. Regardless of its thematic explorations, “it's ambitious and bold, it's experimental in places…It's Stoppard,” Marber says.
The play, which spans from 1899 to 1955, follows generations of one Jewish family inspired by Stoppard’s own family history. “It's about elements of his life, elements of all family's lives, and certainly, strong elements of Jewish family life,” says Marber. “It's Tom's reckoning with his past.” That history connects Marber with the work as well. “It’s connected me more deeply to my Jewishness, to my own family, and made me feel great sadness for those in my family lost in pogroms and the Holocaust. It's made me feel more intimate with my own people and more intimate with my larger tribe, but not just the Jewish people.” He further elaborates, “It connects you with your humanity, opens you up, and takes some of that protective layer off that you need to survive. It’s a raw feeling, but a healthy one. It's a play that lives with you.”