by Tom Stoppard.
English Touring Theatre Tour to 18 April 2015.
Runs 2hr 50min One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 2 March at Waterside Theatre Aylesbury.
Et in arcadia ego. Not.
Among modern playwrights, Tom Stoppard seems never to have climbed the hill of rehearsed readings and workshops but emerged, fully-fledged and beautified with his own feathers in 1966 with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. It raced from the Edinburgh Fringe to London’s National Theatre. From then it was high flying all the way, with premieres at the National, Royal Shakespeare Company and West End.
Thus the concise history, though Stoppard’s verbal jokes, plot acrobatics and brilliantly-juggled ideas were felt to lack a human core – apparently a hard problem for the playwright until 1982 brought The Real Thing. It made do till the real thing came along eleven years later with Stoppard’s acknowledged masterpiece Arcadia. It is the only Stoppard play where news of a character’s fate is, in itself, shocking. Humour and ideas intertwine, as all levels of desire are expressed.
But a rumour had been whispered that a significant element in several early plays’ success was down to infusions of theatricality from directors in those major companies. The point became distressingly apparent whenJumpers failed to get off the ground in a Birmingham Rep revival. And it’s been made again in the last year by two productions of Arcadia.
Last year Andrew Hilton’s Tobacco Factory production in Bristol gave sinewy force and understanding to all elements of this exceptional play. Now English Touring Theatre’s revival falls flat. There are basic flaws, certainly as it opened in Aylesbury. Some moments were semi-audible, occasionally a speech was spoken too fast for its ideas and wit to be absorbed. Amazingly, for a play partly about vogues in landscaped gardens, the huge windows of Derbyshire’s Sedley Park, viewed in two centuries, merely looked onto black curtains.
Blanche McIntyre is undoubtedly a fine, imaginative director, but this is the third time, following Pinter and Coward, I’ve doubted whether her forte is stylised comedy.
Performances are variable, though even the most competent pale by comparison with other productions – Robert Cavanish’s Byron scholar Nightingale, for example, compared with memories of John Hodgkinson, near-definitive as the self-important academic in a Birmingham/Bristol co-production. No such defining moments here, alas.
Lady Croom: Kirsty Besterman.
Bernard Nightingale: Robert Cavanish.
Captain Brice: Tom Greaves.
Ezra Chater: Nakay Kpaka.
Valentine Coverly: Ed McArthur.
Augustus/Gus Coverly: Charlie Manton.
Jellaby: David Mara.
Hannah Jarvis: Flora Montgomery.
Thomasina Coverly: Dakota Blue Richards.
Septimus Hodge: Wilf Scolding.
Richard Noakes: Larrington Walker.
Chloe Coverly: Ria Zmitrowicz.
Director: Blanche McIntyre.
Designer: Jonathan Fensom.
Lighting: Johanna Town.
Sound: Gregory Clarke.
Choreographer: Jane Moriarty.
Company Voice work: Nick Trumble.
Fight director: Keith Wallis.
Assistant director: Kirsty Patrick Ward.
2-7 Mar 7.30pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm Audio-described Thu 2.30pm; Captioned Sat 2.30pm Waterside Theatre Aylesbury 0844 871 7607 www.atgtickets.com/aylesbury
9-14 Mar 7.30pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm Audio-described Sat 2.30pm; BSL Signed Thu 7.30pm Hall for Cornwall Truro 01872 262466 www.hallforcornwall.co.uk
23-28 Mar 7.30pm Mat Wed & Sat 2.30pm Audio-described Sat 2.30pm New Alexandra Theatre Birmingham 0844 871 3011 atgtickets.com/new-alexandra-theatre-birmingham
30 Mar-4 Apr 7.45pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm Audio-described Sat 2.30pm Cambridge Arts Theatre 01223 503333 www.cambridgeartstheatre.com
6-11 Apr 7.30pm Mat Wed & Sat 2.30pm Malvern Festival Theatre 01684 892277 www.malvern-tickets.co.uk
13-18 Apr Mon-Thu; Sat 7.30pm Fri 8pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm Audio-described Sat 2.30pm (+ Touch Tour 1pm); Captioned Wed Oxford Playhouse 01865 305305 www.oxfordplayhouse.com