It is difficult to strike a balance when reviewing previously performed productions, so as to review this company’s interpretation rather than the content of the play itself. I shall begin with a brief outline of the premise though for newcomers:
Arcadia concerns itself with the impact of chaos theory, determinism and the impact of sexual relations on these, as well as an eclectic mix of other topics, including Romanticism, Classicism and the Gothic. There are interwoven storylines, which take place simultaneously in the past and present, each having an influence on the other and highlighting the social change – or lack thereof – in the residents of the same living room. The comedy is wonderfully high-brow and intelligent, finding wit in the most unlikely of topics. The focus of the plot, in its most basic terms, is on an investigation in the present to discover the truth behind a conspiracy of the past, which we watch unfold as it happens.
Without saying too much, the structure of the show involves the two time-periods beginning to overlap. The staging here certainly handles this difficult material well, giving enough blurring between the two worlds to make its point without becoming confusing. It’s a technique that can only work in the medium of theatre and this production certainly proves why. You’ll find yourself admiring the direction of how the characters appear to interact with each other without breaking the fourth wall. The clever way the characters begin to wear costumes which are not indicative of their time-period adds to this effect.
The actors in this particular production conveyed their relative part(s) excellently – it was most notable that even when in the depths of explaining complex mathematical theories they have no doubt recited hundreds of times, it was with a masterful illusion of spontaneity. At no point did it feel rehearsed, and the essential comic timing was hit with ease. The flamboyance or subtlety that was required of each role was exceptional. In particular, when various characters begin to express opinions and viewpoints of their counterparts in the past/future, small nuanced changes of delivery and character were expertly performed by the actors, showing a thorough understanding of the work.
This is a play that appeals solely to those interested in the intellectual stimulation it provides. The set is (purposefully) minimal; the quips require some literary/historical knowledge. Even if you were to go into this show blind however it would still be a thrill, such is the exuberance of the performers. It is difficult to single out anyone to mention such is their collective talent. Aside from rare slips of the tongue (to be expected with such dense dialogue which was otherwise immaculate), all were hugely commendable.
This is not a criticism of the piece itself – the content is marvellously and refreshingly intellectual – but you will benefit more going into this production knowing a little about the context of its creation, or a summary of some of the major themes. Such genius content passes you by at such speed, with such incredible delivery happening so frequently, it’s almost difficult to appreciate. If you go in with a little knowledge of what to expect (without spoiling the plot of course) then you’ll find you get much more out of it. This isn’t a production you can watch with your mind on your pre-ordered interval drinks – you’re going to need to concentrate!
Arcadia is without doubt a masterful work, and this particular production is a gem. All the right ingredients, clever and inspired direction and an uber-talented cast make this tour a definitive watch.
Review by Ash Benzaiten
Written by Tom Stoppard
Directed by Blanche McIntyre
Cast: Kirsty Besterman, Robert Cavanah, Tom Greaves, Nakay Kpaka, Ed MacArthur, Charlie Manton, David Mara, Flora Montgomery, Dakota Blue Richards, Wilf Scolding, Larrington Walker, Ria Zmitrowicz
Produced By English Touring Theatre
The Churchill Theatre Bromley
Tue 17 FEB 2015 – Sat 21 FEB 2015
Tuesday 17th February 2015