Playwright and screenwriter Sir Tom Stoppard has been named as Oxford’s next Cameron Mackintosh Visiting Professor of Contemporary Theatre.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are happy: Oxford job for Tom Stoppard

Sir Tom Stoppard OM CBE FRSL has been named as the next Cameron Mackintosh Visiting Professor of Contemporary Theatre, based at St Catherine’s College at the University of Oxford. He will succeed Claude-Michel Schönberg in October 2017.

The Chair of Contemporary Theatre, founded through a grant from the Mackintosh Foundation at St Catherine's College, aims to promote interest in, and the study and practice of, contemporary theatre. The Visiting Professorship has previously been held by actors, writers, directors, and producers including Arthur Miller, Alan Ayckbourn, Sir Richard Eyre, Stephen Sondheim, Phyllida Lloyd, Sir Richard Attenborough, Sir Nicholas Hytner, Sir Ian McKellen and Claude-Michel Schönberg.

Stoppard, whose theatre career began with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead in 1966, is regarded as one of the most successful and widely-performed writers of his generation.

Commenting on his appointment, he said: ‘Cameron is someone I have known and admired from our early days in the theatre. To occupy a “visiting chair” in his name is a special delight, particularly at Oxford where my plays have been performed by undergraduates for so many years.’

Sir Cameron Mackintosh said: ‘Since this Chair was established 27 years ago I have been thrilled that it has attracted so many legendary talents from the theatre. This year I am especially delighted to welcome one of Britain’s greatest living playwrights, Tom Stoppard, and wish I was lucky enough to be a student once again to be able to have the opportunity of gaining an insight into the craft and inspiration of such a unique and delightful man.’

The Master of St Catherine’s College, Professor Roger Ainsworth, said: ‘We are honoured that Tom has agreed to take up the Cameron Mackintosh Visiting Professorship of Contemporary Theatre next year. We are absolutely delighted to be welcoming such a pioneering and widely-admired intellectual playwright into the College community, and we eagerly look forward to receiving his great artistic insight and wisdom over the next academic year.’

The Professorship is for one academic year. Usually the tenure is marked by a public event where the incumbent presents a personal perspective on an aspect of contemporary theatre. In addition, workshops or seminars involving students take place throughout the year. However, the approach taken to tenure as Cameron Mackintosh Professor  is very much up to the individual incumbent. No teaching obligation is attached to the role.

Stoppard’s inaugural lecture will take place this autumn.

His career started in journalism in 1954, writing for the Western Daily Press in Bristol, followed by the Bristol Evening World in 1958. He was writing short radio plays during this time and had finished his first stage play A Walk on the Water by 1960.

This was staged first in Hamburg, then broadcast on British Independent Television in 1963, by which time he was working as a drama critic for the magazine Scene. In 1964, he was awarded a grant enabling him to spend five months writing in Berlin.

He wrote the one-act play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Meet King Lear during this time, later reworked to become the award-winning Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. Premiering at the Edinburgh Fringe in 1966, this play was brought to the National Theatre in 1967 to great critical acclaim and, after transferring to Broadway, it won the Tony Award for Best Play in 1968. Further successes were achieved with Jumpers (1972), Travesties (1974), The Real Thing (1982), Arcadia (1993), The Invention of Love (1997), The Coast of Utopia (2002) and Rock ’n’ Roll (2006) — to name but a few of his highly regarded stage works.

In a prolific career now spanning more than fifty years, Stoppard has also written for radio (Albert’s Bridge, 1967; In the Native State, 1991; Darkside, 2013), television (Professional Foul, 1977), and film (Shakespeare in Love, co-written with Marc Norman in 1998, which won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay; Anna Karenina, 2012).

His contribution to theatre and screen has been recognized with numerous awards and honours, including Tony awards, Evening Standard awards, New York Drama Critics’ Circle awards for his theatre plays; Giles Cooper awards for his radio plays; and the Laurel Award for Screenwriting Achievement (2013). He was elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1972, was awarded the CBE in 1978, and in 2000 was given the Order of Merit. In 2002 he became President of the London Library and in 2013, Oxford made him an Honorary Doctor of Letters.

Portrait courtesy of Sir Tom Stoppard.


By Dr Lindsay Sharp

This surely reflects the best of our theatre and our thinking over the last fifty years. This creative man represents sensitivity, brilliance and depth. Not to mention knowledge and cultural profundity. Apologies for stating the obvious. We await the next phase. Oxford stands alone in her capabilities as evidenced in this specially creative human. Stated by an Oxonian, in deepest Southern NSW, Australia. Ah well.

By Dorcas Fowler

I am sure many of us who saw "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern " performed in the New Theatre in what must have been 1966 or 1967 and were thrilled by it will have followed his career and seen many of his later plays too. An inspired choice for the Cameron Mackintosh Visiting Professorship. Oxford students continue to be lucky!

By Freddie Oomkens

Stoppard always retained an exile's perspective in his writing, animated by a virtuoso's delight in English. How apt that he can now distil his charmed experience to delight new generations of writers.

By Ian Lancaster

Further to Dorcas Fowler's remarks above, I'm one who remembers "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead" at the New Theatre although I can't find a record on the web of this run in Oxford in, as Dorcas says, either 1966 or 67. A warm-up before the NT, perhaps.
Yes, absolutely thrilling, from the very first moments as they toss a coin. Amazing to read some of the rather sniffy reviews of the original production at the Edinburgh Festival. Splendid news that Sir Tom will come to Oxford.