Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Arcadia, Feb 13, 2008

Arcadia 
by Tom Stoppard by PMD Productions
Chapel off Chapel, Feb 13 until March 1, 2008
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Et in Arcadia ego (And I am in Arcadia). The characters in Tom Stoppard’s play, Arcadia, seem to live in some earthly purgatory rather than in Arcadian bliss.

Stoppard weaves a gloriously complex tapestry from mathematics, gardening, literature and philosophy. His play takes place at the stately English manor house, Sidley Park of Lord Croom, but shifts in time between its residents of 1809 and those of the present.

Arcadia is a period mystery with echoes of Agatha Christie without the murder. Paul Knox’s production is conventional and competent, relying on character and relationship rather than glossy production values. It is contained in a small stage area very close to the audience, making it an intimate theatrical experience.

With a period play there is always the risk of sliding into melodrama and Jane Austenisms. There is some of this in the less experienced actors but there are several charming and capable performers.

Septimus Hodge (Matthew Kenny) is a promiscuous, classics educated Renaissance Man and tutor to the precocious and clever young Thomasina (Kellie Tori) in 1809. Kenny has great comic timing and is delightfully arch and loose-limbed as Hodge, playing him with a wry tone and louche demeanour. Tori has a golden glow as Thomasina, giving her a vivid playfulness to complement her intellect. Their relationship is central to the story, and they engage us at every turn.

 Brenda McGinty brings a suitably brusque determination to Hannah, the 20th century researcher investigating the shadowy Hermit of Sidley Park. As Valentine, son of the current Lord Croom, Luke Lennox has an easy charm and finds emotional range in his character. Jennifer Innes captures the 19th century period in Lady Croom.

Stoppard’s script is inventive and challenging, incorporating his signature wordplay, intellectualism and also draws on scientific theory: Newtonian physics, iterated equations and algorithms. It sets the brain in a whirl. Stoppard cunningly crafts notions of Romanticism and Byronic poetry, Rationalism and the thriving 19th century business of designing gardens into a dense and compelling historical mystery.

By Kate Herbert

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