by Tom Stoppard.

Shakespeare at The Tobacco Factory Raleigh Road BS In rep to 3 May 2014.
24, 25, 28-30 April, 3 May.
Mon-Wed 7.30pm Thu, Fri 8pm Mat Sat 2.30pm.
Runs 3hr 5min One interval.

TICKETS: 0117 902 0344.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 17 April.

Three hours in a dramatic arcadia.
Stoppard at the Tobacco Factory – the young Bristol journalist who’s become one of Britain’s leading dramatists (a tremendous loss for decades of witty might-have-been headline writing) is the first living playwright to be performed alongside Shakespeare at Raleigh Road. Arcadia‘s a fine choice, in its own right and as companion to this year’s Tobacco Factory Shakespeare – in 1976 Peter Gill directed As You Like It on a green but spartan set bearing the Latin tag “Et in arcadia ego”; ‘And I am in Arcadia’, suggesting a mythical golden age. The words are in painter Nicholas Poussin’s 1639 classical scene.

Such scenery might resemble Sidley Park, Derbyshire, where the Coverly family lives in 1809, and where the apparently ageless grounds are up for alteration in the fashion for romantic wildness, while life is interrupted by the new noises of industrial engines. Arcadia was a fantasy of human imaginations replicated by deliberate, costly planning.

While the country house characters – family, servants, visitors – busy themselves with the past or quotidian matters, 16-year old Thomasina, a genius whose future suddenly becomes shockingly evident, has the perception of a child innocently asking embarrassing questions, which her tutor Septimus Hodge (his own fate suggested more gradually) struggles to evade. As a parallel story involving modern events at Sidley shows she also had a rare mathematical intelligence. The interplay of the two eras enables Stoppard to depict how personal agendas and preconceptions colour the interpretation of historical evidence – creating the kind of unreliability Stephen Sondheim’s song ‘Someone in a Tree’ illustrates in Pacific Overtures.

Not the least virtue of Andrew Hilton’s production is its handling of Poussin’s Arcadia motto, contrasting its assumed pastoral calm against the more sinister mood in which it’s later barked-out.

A huge table dominates the stage, unifying the time-zones, and there are clear performances, conveying the emotional force of Stoppard’s intelligent design (and designs on our intelligent attention), with especially strong work from Piers Wehner as the wilful tutor Septimus and Hannah Lee as the earnest girl with the provocative mind – a performance worthy of one of the finest characters in modern drama.

Thomasina Coverly: Hannah Lee.
Septimus Hodge: Piers Wehner.
Jellaby: Christopher Bianchi.
Ezra Chater: Vincenzo Pellegrino.
Richard Noakes: Alan Coveney.
Lady Croom: Dorothea Myer-Bennett.
Capt Brice RN: Paul Currier.
Hannah Jarvis: Polly Frame.
Chloë Coverly: Daisy May.
Bernard Nightingale: Matthew Thomas.
Valentine Coverly: Jack Wharrier.
Gus Coverly/Augustus Coverly: Tom England.

Director: Andrew Hilton.
Designer/Costume: Harriet de Winton.
Lighting: Matthew Graham.
Sound/Composer: Dan Jones.
Choreographer: Kay Zimmerman.
Assistant director: Nicholas Finnegan.

2014-05-01 09:25:18

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