‘Arcadia’ is an intelligent 1993 play of tragedy and plenty of dry comedy, written when he was 56 yrs. old by Tomáš Straussler, a Czech-born refugee who became the British playwright and screenwriter, Sir Tom Stoppard. He wrote several remarkably diverse screenplays from ‘The Russia House’ to ‘Shakespeare in Love’ for which he won an Oscar.
This unique play concerns the relationship between past and present, order and disorder, certainty and uncertainty. It won a Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Play, followed in 1995 by a nomination for Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Play and a Tony Award nomination for Best Play. This ravishing play is often considered Stoppard’s finest work.
After writing under the pseudonym of William Boot, Stoppard came up with probably his best-known play ‘Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead’.
2006 Arcadia was voted onto the shortlist for the Royal Institution award for ‘the best science-related book ever written’. It was closely beaten by Primo Levi’s, ‘The Periodic Table’.
This very funny, ingenious almost three hours play with its wonderful two generations 180 years apart has truly delightful and horrendous characters. It can be seen at the Harbour Theatre, within Camelot, 16 Lochee Street in Mosman Park
This play is written on two levels. One as a straightforward, realistic comedy with true-to-life characters about the same upper crust family and the way these relatives interact with each other. Then there is a later generation, over one hundred and eighty years later and we see the similarities of the two groups.
The premise sounds complicated, but it is REALLY most enjoyable – no brains required if you want an easy night out, just go with the flow.
The play within the play: (For information, read this only if you want to understand the whole story). However, the play has a parallel storyline drawn with the Periodic Tables in chemistry, in which the elements that react in a similar way, for example chlorine, fluorine and bromine which are all good disinfectants, so are grouped together but they are also ranked in value, strength and toxicity – like the relations of a family.
Then the subject of status quo to chaos theory and back to stability is mentioned by Thomasina. Her example is – If you have a bowl of rice pudding (stability) and add a spoon of jam there is chaos with red stripes everywhere. It cannot return to the previous stable point. If you keep stirring it will all become pink, then there is a new status quo and point of stability.
The patterns from integration of parameters for a graph: if you have a daffodil bulb (a starting point) and it grows leaves and flowers (chaos) but finishes at the end of the season with four flower bulbs. Then the next cycle will be similar to the first, but it will be starting off with four bulbs and so ending again at the following year’s cycle’s new starting point.
Opposition of Classicism and Romanticism is depicted by Thomasina’s mother at the beginning of the play to that at the end.
Please, you do not need to know this, so just sit back and enjoy the show.
The Scene: 1809 and 1989. Sidley Park, a wealthy Derbyshire estate. The story Arcadia is named after the female Greek word for ‘region offering peace and contentment’.
The Set: The stage is at floor level. Mark Nicholson has created a full back wall window frame (4 metres by 6 metre) with French Windows and massive glass panes overlooking the gardens. The wings, on both sides of the stage are warm white, hard panelled, 6-metre walls with a white door on each. Very classy.
Set Construction: Excellent work by David Cotgreave, assisted by Brian Mahoney, Dean McAskil, Lindsay Crane, Phil Redding, Ian Calvert, Rob Tagliaferri, Grace Hitchin, Shaun Griffin, Jarrod Buttery and Tina Barker
Lighting: was also designed by Mark Nicholson, then rigged and operated by Rob Tagliaferri. Some genuinely nice effects.
Soundscape: operated by Vanessa Gudgeon, Vanessa had to get special permission to use the pump engine recording – the first I have heard in a theatre. Particularly good gun shots.
Stage Management and properties: Grace Hitchin and Jo Sterkenburg worked hard. The centrepiece of the stage is a stunning, teak and mahogany, 12-foot-long drum table, mounted on two massive pedestals. A set of beautiful rattan mahogany chairs. There is a lectern with an A2 historic landscape gardening book. Numerous antique books are piled up on the table.
Graphic design: A piece of newsprint (most realistic) and the many book covers were by Jo Sterkenburg.
Photography for Keith Shackleton’s very smart programme was by Dasha Melnik.
In 1809, Thomasina Coverley (Lucy Wiese), the daughter of the house, is a precocious 13 yrs. old mathematical genius, even her knowledge of nature and physics is ahead of her time. She studies with her young tutor, Septimus Hodge (Patrick Downes), a friend of Lord Byron. A dimwit writer, Ezra Chater (Jason Dohle) discovers that his wife has had carnal knowledge with someone else.
The immaculate, yet somewhat nosey, butler (Geffrey Leeder) delivers a private letter to Septimus and requests a reply, which the tutor seals with wax and an intaglio press (impressive).
Arrogant and cold Lady Croom (Anna Head) and her brother, fresh from the sea, Captain Brice RN (Cameron Leese) have decided to change their beautiful ‘Capability’ landscaping to a wild wilderness.
The scene fades to black and when the lights return the set has had a few modifications but is basically the same scene 180 years later.
In the present, Hannah Jarvis (Grace Edwards), who is a highly intelligent author, is researching the family’s book collection and treasures, when a literature professor, Bernard Nightingale (Adam Poole) a slimy, ingratiating, money grabbing liar arrives. Hannah is investigating a hermit who once lived on the grounds; Bernard is researching a mysterious chapter in the life of Byron which mentions Sidley. Chloe Coverly (Lilian Valverde Caceres) is interested in writing; however, it is her brother Valentine (Ashvath Singh Kunadi) who has young Thomasina’s mathematical genes. Gus Coverly (Joe Stevens), Chloe and Valentine’s mute brother is a brilliant pianist.
The wistful original music by Robert W. Oriol perfectly captured the two periods.
The costumes were designed and created by Merri Ford. There were the specific uniforms such as Captain Brice RN’s, but it was the little less noticeable hints of linking the generations together by giving the two Coverly girls similar dresses 180-years apart that helped tie the story together.
Seanne Sparrow’s waltz choreography was a joy.
This is a long play and yet it could easily take a second visit. Whilst being satisfied with the first viewing the richness and detail comes with a second.
Barry Park is one of Perth’s most highly respected directors who loves a challenge. He will take a masterpiece that no other director would consider capable of direction and turn out a play to remember. Then he selects a cast, and with such a reputation the top actors queue up to be in his productions. This play is no exception. The cast are top class and the standard of their acting amazing. Barry has given Lucy (only 18 last week!) her big break as Thomasina; being from Busselton, this is Lucy’s first part in a Perth play and she has done him proud with a stunning multi-layered performance.
Many of the cast have swathes of intricate and complicated dialogue and yet everyone delivered their lines with perfect pace, allowing the audience to understand fully the points (and some were quite complex science topics) they were making. Yes, this is a play that you will leave feeling not just more informed, but actually a new scientific specialist.
The dialogue between Ezra and Septimus is classic, when furious Ezra has been ‘wrongly done by’ and yet smooth talking Septimus (numbers again, this means ‘seventh child’ – the child in the family magically blessed) has him eating out of his hand in minutes.
The dialogue is concise and punchy, filled with innuendoes and derogatory comments. Bernard Nightingale was so supercilious and annoying, a lovely piece of acting by Adam.
A dozen superb performances, the best of teching and a very funny insight into the grumblings of an aristocratic family. Highly recommended.