ARCADIA – by Tom Stoppard
Review by Andrew Collins – 3rd February 2015
Thematically interesting, vicariously plotted, dense and verbose – Tom Stoppard’s 1993 play Arcadia, however complex and well-acted, was not the enthralling spectacle I hoped it would be. It is billed a comedy, but as a whole, manifestly is not. Whilst it had a good smattering of very amusing dialogue, the overall gist of the piece was an over-wrought and slightly bewildering drawn out series of theses.
The play’s core expositions are certainly fascinating – the interplay and causality between past and present, historical archaeology and the endless dance between the forces of order and disorder. But the dramatic devices used to explore and extrapolate such themes often manifest as pretentious and supercilious.
Arcadia’s plot juxtaposes two time periods in the same place – an English country house, Sidley Park in Derbyshire. The earlier time period is set in the very early 19th century. Act one starts with a young precocious student, Thomasina Coverly (Dakota Blue Richards) being playfully tutored by Septimus Hodge (Wilf Scalding), a friend of Lord Byron.
Thomasina is a pioneer and genius, almost casually inventing a mathematical theorem to perhaps rival Fermat’s last – just 13 at this point, imbued with almost supernatural foresight and acute imagination. Interrupting her lesson is Ezra Chater, a poet and guest at the house. He accuses Hodge of ‘carnal embraces’ with his wife and demands a duel.
Into the room then come Richard Noakes (Larrington Walker), Captain Brice (Tom Greaves) and Lady Croom (Kirsty Besterman), who held diffuse the situation. The topic then switches to proposed modifications to the extensive gardens.
Cut to modern day, where one of the current occupants of Sidley Park, author Hannah Jarvis (Flora Montgomery), is diligently researching the house and trying to unravel all its secrets via remaining memorabilia and artefacts, including the original plans for the gardens. Bernard Nightingale (Robert Cavanah), an academic who is similarly investigating, tricks his way into the house and begins to try and further his work by requesting access to the private books and diaries held there.
The plot then continues to drift between these two time periods over the seven acts. Further secrets, and the crux of the matter – the actual extent of Lord Byron’s involvement in the past – are slowly revealed.
Arcadia is very clever, no doubt about it, and tackles some seriously profound issues such as determinism, the nature of God, love, the fractal Universe, iteration, physics and entropy. I felt that this was just too much to tackle in one play, and the methodology employed in the script was too tangled to fully enjoy.
Having said that, the sheer complexity of the dialogue being performed is wonderful to behold, and some of the themes tackled by Stoppard do set the mind alight. Dakota Richards is simply exquisite in every way. Robert Cavanah was equally superb as the passionate and ballistic author / researcher Bernard Nightingale. Larrington Walker as landscape architect Richard Noakes gave a memorable performance and Lady Croom’s character (Thomasina’s mother) was wonderfully portrayed by Kirsty Besterman.
Given the subject matters of the play, Arcadia’s running time is necessarily nearly three hours. It’s been voted one of the nation’s top five plays, which accords it a well-deserved gravitas. Whilst I was not wholly enamoured of it, the fine performances throughout, hefty dialogue and grandiose themes cement the play and accord it that high rated place in theatre. A packed and VIP attended house at the Theatre Royal confirmed most certainly confirmed this.
Fri 30 Jan – Sat 7 Feb
Mon – Sat eves 7.45pm Thu & Sat mats 2.30pm
Theatre Royal Brighton Productions and English Touring Theatre’s new touring production of Tom Stoppard’s comedy ARCADIA will open at Theatre Royal Brighton on 30 January 2015 before touring to theatres around the UK.
Tom Stoppard’s masterpiece, the brilliantly witty, deeply moving and thought provoking ARCADIA is widely considered one of the greatest plays of the last century, winning countless awards including the 1993 Olivier and 1995 Tony Awards for Best Play. Tom Stoppard was named Greatest Living Playwright in the Evening Standard Theatre Awards in 2014.
In 19th century rural Derbyshire, secret desires and professional rivalries take hold of the residents of Sidley Park. The daughter of the house, Thomasina Coverly, is a bright and talented pupil tutored by Byron’s friend Septimus Hodge, who makes a startling discovery well ahead of her time. In the present day, academics Hannah Jarvis and Bernard Nightingale attempt to piece together the fragments of truth that tell her story.
ARCADIA explores the delicate relationship between past and present, shifting from 1809 to today as two generations of an aristocratic family explore maths, poetry, landscape gardening and computer science.
Directed by the multi award winning Blanche McIntyre, one of the UK’s most respected young directors, this will be the first major UK tour of ARCADIA since its original production over 20 years ago.
Brighton based actress Dakota Blue Richards (The Golden Compass, Skins) will make her stage debut as Thomasina, with other cast including Kirsty Besterman, Robert Cavanah, Tom Greaves, Nakay Kpaka, Ed MacArthur, Charlie Manton, David Mara, Flora Montgomery, Wilf Scolding, Larrington Walker and Ria Zmitrowitz.
This production marks a new collaboration between Theatre Royal Brighton Productions (Dandy Dick, Blue Orange) and English Touring Theatre (Translations, Ghosts, The Misanthrope).
0844 871 7650*
(booking fee applies)