ARCADIA: Tom Stoppard.
Runs: 3h 5m: one interval: till 15th November.
Performance times: 7.45pm (matinees 1.30pm 13th and 2.30pm 8th).
Review: Alan Geary: 4th November 2014.
A triumph.Tom Stoppard is our finest living playwright and Arcadia is his greatest work. A happy duty to report, therefore, that the latest Nottingham Playhouse production is a triumph.
Set in a Derbyshire stately home, the play operates in two distinct time periods, 1809 to 1813, and the 1990s, each with its own characters. The same room – a huge, beautifully realistic one – is used for both periods. This helps Stoppard to make explicit the parallels, ironies and so on in terms of action, character and dialogue.
The main nineteenth-century characters are Thomasina, a ferociously intelligent thirteen (later sixteen) year-old, and her clever young tutor Septimus, who apart from the day job is involved in amorous adventures about the place. Byron – we never see him – is also in residence some of the time, which complicates the fun.
In the 1990s the present family, the Coverlys, are under invasion from Nightingale, a go-getting university man researching Byron’s connection with the estate, and Hannah, who’s planning a book about a hermit who lived there in the earlier period. Valentine, one of the Coverly children, is an engaging biological mathematician, appropriately enough, studying grouse.
The text is packed with beauty and wit. But it’s the interaction of ideas that generates the dazzling, sometimes overpowering intellectuality of the play – a common criticism is it that it contains too much of the stuff, that it’s simply there to parade Stoppard’s erudition. The list is formidable: classicism and romanticism – the nineteenth-century estate is having a make-over typical of the period; poetry; Newtonian physics; mechanics; entropy theory; chaos theory; and much else.
Acting from everyone is first-class; that said, an opinion poll might come up with Parth Thakerar’s performance as Septimus as the most striking. He’s handsome and playful enough to help make the play in part a romantic comedy – it’s also a deeply moving tragedy – and he captures the period mannerisms and speech perfectly.
Emily Laing, in her stage debut, is a superb Thomasina, simultaneously conveying adolescent sweetness and intellectual arrogance. David Bark-Jones (Nightingale), Teresa Banham (Hannah) and Ilan Goodman (Valentine) are also outstanding.
This is a major success for director Giles Croft. It ought to go on tour.
Bernard Nightingale: David Bark-Jones.
Hannah: Teresa Banham.
Valentine: Ilan Goodman.
Jellaby/Noakes: Mark Jardine.
Captain Brice: Robin Kingsland.
Thomasina: Emily Laing.
Lady Croom: Lizzy McInnery.
Chloe: Florence Roberts.
Gus/Augustus: Jacob Seelochan.
Septimus Hodge: Parth Thakerar.
Ezra Chater: James Thorne.
Director: Giles Croft.
Designer: Madeleine Girling.
Lighting Designer: Mark Jonathan.
Composer and Sound Designer: Adam P McCready.
Choreographer: Adele Parry.