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5 stars for Tom Stoppard’s Touring Revival of Arcadia

Arcadia by Tom StoppardTom Stoppard has written a play which is unashamedly difficult and demands close attention throughout, but he has generously written it in beautiful and gripping language which shares the ideas with such enthusiasm and wit that while watching it, one feels one’s mind happily opening up to the play’s themes; afterwards one wants to see it again, to renew the pleasure of the mental exercise.

What is the play about? To quote from an essay on the subject: The play is about history, science, philosophy, mathematics, love, and death’ And that’s about it. Well no, it’s also about gardening. This is a very difficult play to summarise; perhaps only Mr Stoppard could do it satisfactorily.

In brief (too brief), the play moves from past to present, from ideas to emotions and back again. The time periods alternate and gradually become concurrent. We open in 1809, where 13 year old Thomasina and her tutor, Septimous, discuss her original ideas about physics, ideas which will not come to fruition until well after her time. Her story is juxtaposed with the story of the future inhabitants of this house: Hannah who is researching the life of a hermit who used to live here and Bernard Nightingale, a scholar who is researching an unknown episode in the life of Lord Byron. All is revealed of course, gradually and at the same time dramatically. Never can research have been so much fun to watch. Past and present, science and romance,order and chaos, classicism and romanticism criss-cross each other as mysteries are explored and truths revealed. The past is played out and then replayed as seen by the present.

Everything happens in the same setting, giving a ghostly feeling to each scene as though each story is being observed unseen from another era. Doors open and close on all three sides of the stage, as if in a farce. Objects from the past are still on the table in the present when their meaning has become history. Everything passes, everything is changed and recreated by the memory of those who come after. Finally, past and present collide and collapse into a chaos which is also a kind of clarity. The lone continuing character is an extremely ancient tortoise (a brilliant performance) who imperturbably goes on through it all, kind of like life itself.

A lot of the success of this play depends on the production, this is the third production I have seen and it is by far the best. The clarity of thought and action were a delight to watch and the wit was ever present, bubbling under the surface of even the most seriously cerebral moments.

The direction, by Blanche McIntyre, is pitch perfect, and the acting is as good as it gets. This is truly an ensemble production and it would be invidious to pick out any individual. I will, however say that I was totally charmed by Wilf Scolding as Septimus and Robert Cavanah as Bernard Nightingale. I also greatly admired Kirsty Besterman in the tricky part of Lady Croom, and Ed MacArthur making a nice debut as Valentine. I admired Nakay Kpaka last season in ‘Rachel’ at the Finborough theatre and it was a pleasure to see him here as Ezra Chater. Oh dear, now I’ve been invidious: every performance contributed equally to the whole and if one actor had been less than excellent, the play would have lost by it.

Arcadia is a play that needs to be seen more than once; each viewing uncovers another layer of meaning in the play. This production in particular is one that would repay a second or third viewing. It left me keen to see it again, even to read the play, to think about the play. It has been called ‘cerebral’ but Arcadia does what the theatre at its best should do; it entertains, moves, educates and inspires enthusiasm for the subject. If it’s playing at a theatre near you, go and see it.

5 Star Rating

 

Review by Kate Beswick

Tom Stoppard’s ARCADIA
English Touring Theatre and Theatre Royal Brighton Productions
Directed by Blanche McIntyre
30th January to 18th April 2015

English Touring Theatre is one of the UK’s most successful and exciting production companies, widely regarded as England’s National Theatre of Touring. Led by Director Rachel Tackley, the company works with leading artists to stage an eclectic mix of new and classic work for audiences throughout the UK and overseas; theatre that is thrilling, popular and, above all, entertaining.

Theatre Royal Brighton Productions, a partnership between Ambassador Theatre Group (ATG) and Theatre Royal Brighton, was launched in 2011. Theatre Royal Brighton, with a rich and varied history spanning over 200 years, is one of the country’s best loved and oldest working theatres. Each production presented by the company opens at the Theatre Royal Brighton prior to a nationwide tour. Previous Theatre Royal Brighton Productions include Dandy Dick starring Patricia Hodge and Nicholas Le Prevost and Blue/Orange starring Robert Bathurst (Brighton, UK tour and London). Current and recent ATG co-productions include Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown starring Tamsin Greig (London), East is East starring Jane Horrocks (London), Richard III starring Martin Freeman (London), Dirty Rotten Scoundrels starring Robert Lindsay (London and UK Tour) and Jersey Boys (London and UK Tour).

English Touring Theatre and Theatre Royal Brighton Productions today announced casting for a new touring production of Tom Stoppard’s comedy masterpiece, Arcadia, which will be the first major national tour since 1993, and over 20 years since the play has been seen by audiences around the UK. Directed by Blanche McIntyre, Arcadia will open at the Theatre Royal Brighton on 30 January 2015 before touring the UK to Bath, Bromley, Woking, Aylesbury, Truro, Birmingham, Cambridge, Malvern and Oxford until April 2015.

Cast: Dakota Blue Richards, Kirsty Besterman, Robert Cavanah, Tom Greaves, Nakay Kpaka, Ed MacArthur, Charlie Manton, David Mara, Flora Montgomery, Wilf Scolding, Larrington Walker and Ria Zmitrowitz.

Tour Details
http://www.ett.org.uk/
30 January – 7 February 2015
Theatre Royal Brighton
New Road, Brighton, East Sussex BN1 1SD
Box Office 0844 871 7650

Friday 6th February 2015

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