ADVERTISING AT CURTAINUP
Short Term Listings
BOOKS and CDs
LETTERS TO EDITOR
Writing for Us
A CurtainUp London Review
The real Arcadia was a landlocked region of Greece where the Arcadians lived a pastoral and isolated existence and in Greek and Roman poetry and Renaissance literature, the term Arcadia is interchangeable with an idealized country living, a kind of rural paradise.
In the course of the play we examine algebra and algorithms, fashions in garden design, Byron's peccadilloes and many more possible diversions that the playwright allows us to expand mentally. The key with Stoppard is the way he satisfies so many of the audience and how detailed is his immaculate research. Those who want to observe people are satisfied, those who want to chuckle will find plenty to amuse but those whose want to grapple with scientific concepts can do so without the rest of us who may be non scientists feeling adrift. In the scene towards the end of the play when both time periods happen at once, the twenty-first century cast are dressed for a costume ball so the dress is similar to their ancestors.
There is plenty of Stoppard's famously clever wit, whether it's Septimus gulling Thomasina into thinking carnal embrace is the practice of throwing one's arms round a side of beef or Lady Croom wryly observing, "It is a defect of God's humour that he directs our hearts everywhere but to those who have a right to them." The disastrous gardener Mr Noakes is compared unfavourably with the most brilliant of eighteenth century landscape designers, Capability Brown, by his being dubbed Culpability Noakes by Lady Croom. It is Noakes' work which is changing the gardens of Sidley Park from the natural but romantic Arcadia to the over styled Gothic.
The casting is very skillful. Neil Pearson is the almost unsavoury university lecturer determined to make his name with an ill-researched force fit theory about Byron. Samantha Bond, who sounds more and more like Judi Dench with that delicious crack in her voice, is the more scrupulous writer and garden historian. Nancy Carroll is a quirky and quite delightfully outspoken Lady Croom. Her acerbic exchanges with Noakes about The Hermitage are a complete joy but on the subject of Mrs Chater's drawers, she is also naughty. A handsome and confident Dan Stevens takes on the part of the tutor that Rufus Sewell made hearts a flutter in 1993 and is of course the object of his tutee's romantic notions. Ed Stoppard is excellent as the socially awkward, "head in the clouds" Valentine. Jessie Cave as Thomasina could be difficult to hear on the night I saw the play but is very natural and has promise.
The Duke of York has installed an extra lighting rig for this play which makes the set really beautifully lit by Paul Anderson, with Hildegard Bechtler's classical drawing room with beautiful furniture and lovely windows at the rear, but it also makes the theatre very hot as the antiquated air conditioning struggles to cope and patrons start distractingly to fan their programmes against the heat.
This is the most entertaining and witty play in London's West End. Do not miss David Leveaux's delightful production!
For more about Tom Stoppard and links to other Stoppard plays we've reviewed, see Curtainup's Stoppard Backgrounder.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
Click image to buy.