Tom Stoppard's early life was full of movement and insecurity.
Born in Czechoslovakia in 1937 to Jewish parents, Martha and Eugen, Stoppard began life as Tomáš Straüssler. With the Second World War, his family fled their hometown of Zlín, moving to Asia to escape the invading German army. Little Tomáš, together with his mother and brother Petr, moved temporarily to Australia, while father Eugen, a doctor, worked in Singapore as a volunteer medic. After the fall of Singapore to the Japanese army, Eugen disappeared, possibly perishing on a bombed ship or in a prisoner of war camp. Eventually, Martha moved with her sons to Darjeeling, India, where she met and married Kenneth Stoppard, a British army major who transferred the family to England at the conclusion of the war.
Thus, Tomáš Straüssler grew up in England as Tom Stoppard. Never a fan of his English schooling, Stoppard chose not to attend university and at the age of 17 took up a job as a journalist at the Western Daily Press in Bristol. His work at the newspaper took him into the realm of feature writing and theatre criticism and, despite his love for the media, he was soon seduced by the art of playwriting.
After dabbling in writing short radio plays, Stoppard wrote his first full length play A Walk on the Water in 1964, at the age of 23, and almost immediately gained acclaim. Two small works followed, but it was not until he wrote Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead in 1966 (staged at STC in 2013) that he was truly recognised as a brilliant playwright. The play won Stoppard numerous awards, including the 1968 Tony Award for Best Play, and it established his name internationally.
Stoppard has written prolifically for theatre ever since, with works including Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, The Real Inspector Hound, After Magritte, Jumpers, Dirty Linen, Dogg’s Hamlet, Cahoot’s Macbeth, Travesties, Every Good Boy Deserves Favour (with André Previn), Night and Day, The Real Thing, Hapgood, Indian Ink, Arcadia,The Invention of Love, The Coast of Utopia and Rock ’n’ Roll. He has also adapted and translated plays by the likes of Anton Chekhov (The Seagull, Ivanov, The Cherry Orchard) and Vaclav Havel (Largo Desolato).
"Stoppard loves all forms of wordplay, especially puns, and frequently describes himself as 'a bounced Czech'. Like many immigrants, he has immersed himself beyond the call of baptism in the habits and rituals of his adopted country. Nowadays, he is 'plus anglais que les anglais' — a phrase that would please him, as a student of linguistic caprice, since it implies that his Englishness can best be defined in French."
— Kenneth Tynan
His plays are notable for their vigorous wordplay, intellectual rigour, engagement with political themes and metatheatricality. On the occasion of the New York premiere of his eight-hour epic The Coast of Utopia in 2006, the New York Times magazine noted that Stoppard's plays were "designed to entertain, educate and intimidate theater audiences all at the same time".
In addition to his work in theatre, Stoppard has written extensively for film and television, most notably writing the screenplay for Shakespeare in Love, for which he won an Academy Award. He also wrote and directed the screen adaptation of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, which won the Prix d’Or for Best Film at the 1990 Venice Film Festival.
Alongside numerous awards, including several Tony Awards for Best Play, Stoppard was knighted in 1997 and is the only playwright currently in the Queen's Order of Merit.
TOM STOPPARD IN CONVERSATION AT SYDNEY OPERA HOUSE
Arcadia, 8 Feb – 2 Apr 2016, Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House