Arcadia

I saw a few days ago in The Independent that Johann Hari had declared Arcadia to be the greatest play of our age (whatever that age is). It’s a big call. It’s also a very nice play. While I’m quite a Stoppard fan I hadn’t seen it before yesterday – when I was visiting London in 2006 I saw Rock n’ Roll in its première season and had tickets to see it again in New York in 2007, but Broadway was shut down by industrial action.

Like many of Stoppard’s plays, Arcadia is decorated with intellectual in-jokes and mechanical tortoises.  Ok.  It’s probably the only one that requires a remote control tortoise, but I haven’t read Jumpers in a while and I wouldn’t bet any money on it not featuring one at some point.

Arcadia jumps between two points in time in the history of Sidley Park: the tutoring of young genius Thomasina by a contemporary of Byron’s at Cambridge and the preparations for a garden party in the present day. In the modern scenes the books and objects of Renascence Sidley Park remain on the table, to be discovered by a pair of literary historians: Bernard Nightingale (Neil Pearson), investigating Byron’s stay at the property and Hannah Jarvis (Samantha Bond) investigating the man who lived until his death in the garden’s hermitage.

This production was really well performed. I particularly enjoyed seeing Dan Stevens (who played Septimus) after seeing him in the BBC’s adaptation of Alan Hollinghurst’s The Line of Beauty and Ed Stoppard (son of Tom), playing Valentine. Ed Stoppard appeared in last year’s film adaptation of Brideshead Revisited, adding extra humour to Nightingale’s dismissal of his character as “Brideshead Regurgitated”.  Direction was by David Levaux. In London in 2006 I saw his Glass Menagerie staring Jessica Lange and found it very moving, so it was lovely to have another chance to see his work.

Leaving the theatre we saw at least six autograph hunters standing with folders of posters and DVD covers, some already signed by other celebrities. Most of the posters seemed to be from the Harry Potter films. This gives you some idea of how intense the attention actors in these blockbusters get – Hugh Mitchell (who plays Gus/Augustus) had appeared in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, and Jessie Cave (Thomasina) is in the film to be released later this year, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

Arcadia
By Tom Stoppard

27/05/09
Duke of York’s Theatre London.

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