Theatre Review: Arcadia

The Barn takes on one of its biggest challenges of the year with this mammoth production of Tom Stoppard’s classic. reports back from the 1800s

Arcadia. Photo Credit: Greg Tiani

Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia is a work of genius. It is an incredibly witty, intelligent and thoughtful play about witty, intelligent and flawed characters. It tells a story of intrigue, intellect, seduction and poetry at Romantic era Sidley Park, interwoven with the triumphs and tribulations of the modern-day residents and academics who are seeking to understand the very events that the audience watch unfold throughout the play.

The overlapping eras were beautifully represented, with each scene taking place on a virtually unchanging stage scattered with timeless academic detritus. The difference in times was highlighted elegantly by Lighting Designer Marie Colahan with subtle but significant lighting changes, using onstage candle and lantern light to great effect. Perhaps most striking were the moments when the past and present coincided on stage, the actors moving as if unaware of their untimely counterparts with only the tiniest of slips in this precisely choreographed convergence of times.

Faced with a dense script including lectures, poetry extracts, and more dates than I could count, the cast did an admirable job of bringing the words to life. Given the complexity of the dialogue, it was especially important that the characterisation was brought across strongly in tone and physicality, an area in which the cast did not disappoint.

Every character had a unique manner of expression, ranging from the nervous outrage of James Chetwood’s Ezra Chater, to the deafening roar of Calvin Jordan’s Bernard Nightingale

Every character had a unique manner of expression, ranging from the nervous outrage of James Chetwood’s Ezra Chater, to the deafening roar of Calvin Jordan’s Bernard Nightingale. Lucia Rimini’s dry-witted Hannah Jarvis brought an engaging but cutting humour to the modern era, partnered well with the compassionate but equally snarky Valentine Coverly, played by Freya Dawes.

Attention should be drawn to Filip Gesse’s portrayal of Gus/Augustus Coverly, which though largely silent was endearing and engaging. Leo Clasen as Septimus Hodge especially shone with his comic timing and a supremely well-delivered barbed wit, which was in turn well balanced by the innocent yet perceptive Thomasina Coverly, played by Jessy Roberts. Even Plautus/Lightning the tortoise took on life as characters indulged him with casual attention, reinforcing his reality while often barely seeming to notice his presence.

Arcadia. Photo Credit: Greg Tiani

One of the few issues with this production is that the cast often need to give the performance credit for how funny it is. There were moments when lines were lost amid the laughter of the audience, which is a crying shame and sometimes a significant oversight in a show with such a dense and complex script as this.

The set, by Elle Hibbert and Pollyanna Jenkins, is simple but enchanting

It was definitely an ambitious task to put on – a play in which actors need knowledge about everything from Newtonian physics and determinism to trashy Gothic novels and the history of gardening. The research work of dramaturgs Chloe Gamble and Joanna Papanastassiou should not go unnoticed when it comes to bringing this play to life.

The aesthetics of the show are also beyond reproach. The set, by Elle Hibbert and Pollyanna Jenkins, is simple but enchanting, using an origami blend of book pages and flowers to decorate the walls in a thematically resonant combination of nature and literature. Neither did the costumes fall short, with particular standouts being the historical dresses, handmade for the show by Costume Designer Evie Emslie.

Altogether, the result was a play that thoroughly enraptured the audience – full focus is required if you want to make sure you take in everything Arcadia has to offer. It is a play that will take you from the loftiest heights of human aspiration to the basest acts of human desire and back again, and this is a performance that will keep you laughing – and thinking – all the way through. Ambitious though the task was, DramaSoc more than did this fascinating play justice.


10/10

Arcadia runs in The Drama Barn until Sunday night. For more information and to book tickets visit www.yorkdramasoc.com