Arcadia

Wed 5th – Fri 7th March 2014

reviews

max moore

at 13:50 on 8th Mar 2014

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We step into Arcadia to find Septimus attempting to steer his young pupil Thomasina’s curiosity from the phrase "carnal embrace" to a proof of Fermat's Last Theorem. As far as a synopsis goes, this is all that is really required. What follows is a series of insightful and amusing dialogues in the same vein; it’s quintessentially Stoppard, and in the hands of Bristol DramSoc, a joy to watch.

This is owed in no small order to the pairing of Ed Phillips and Robyn Wilson (Septimus and Thomasina, respectively). The former plays the 19th Century academic as both suave and facetious, with impeccably timed wry asides. The latter matches this with truly believable heart and intelligence. As a duo they are utterly captivating and add an extra star to this review by their own merit.

In the contemporary sequences, Amy Cotter (as Hannah) and James Alexander (as Valentine) make convincing academics, whilst Oli Higginson (as Bernard) makes a believable faux-academic; his combination of sanctimony and physical comedy is entertaining but becomes somewhat repetitive. The cast is completed by a string of talented but underexploited characters.

India Crawford and Zoë Hunter-Gordon’s direction is simple and understated with occasional moments of both deft comedy and engaging drama. All facets of production follow suite and are relatively faff-free, setting the tone perfectly and never distracting from Stoppard’s script. Indeed, with the play being rife with philosophical monologues and structural nuance, this simplicity proves to be a virtue. However, I did find myself hoping the company would take some risks and strive to capture Stoppard’s edge and whimsical qualities. In fact, in the first Act a running-gag of people trying to open doors the wrong way began to emerge, but it turned out to be just a fortuitous accident.

All in all the production is engaging, insightful, and frequently hilarious. The only further criticism one might level is that some of the physics and philosophy conversations lack the vitality and eloquence their author intended for them. The given synopsis states, "Stoppard is heralded as one of the greatest playwrights of the twentieth century but he is often criticised for a lack of heart. This is by no means the case with Arcadia.” It is a testament to the talents of DramSoc that they imbue Arcadia with an excess of heart, if only they could quite master the contents of Stoppard’s brain.

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Isobel Cockerell

at 00:56 on 9th Mar 2014

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The closing night of Arcadia at the Redgrave Theatre saw a packed house - and the convivial atmosphere between actors and audience was nothing short of electric.

DramSoc brought Tom Stoppard’s masterwork back to Bristol -- where the playwright first entered the world of theatre -- with triumphant success.

Arcadia is an intricately crafted piece that sees time shift back and forth, converging present day with the early 19th Century at the height of the Romantic era. We follow the parallels and calamities that unfold within the rolling grounds of Sidley Park, the seat of the aristocratic Coverly family, as they try to untangle the mysteries of science, poetry, love, sex, the universe and the everyday.

The actors handled the elaborate progressions of time beautifully – the glowing Thomasina (Robyn Wilson) stood out in this respect. We watched, entranced, as she grew up throughout the course of the play from a shrill, naïve thirteen-year-old into a soft-spoken, poised and elegant young woman. It seemed even her cheeks grew less flushed with the bloom of childhood -- years passed in a matter of hours and she, above all, held them aloft with natural grace.

The shifting of time was so well conveyed by the actors that it seemed a shame it was not reflected within the detail of the set. Stoppard's style calls for little change in the backdrop throughout the action of the play, but it nevertheless felt clumsy when Valentine’s HP laptop was left open on the table during the 19th century scenes, spoiling the illusion. Despite it being the closing night, the actors still hadn’t quite mastered the set doors. Their entry and exit often led to a fair amount of wrestling before they finally managed to hurl themselves on or off stage, to the sound of stifled chortles from the audience.

What passed within these rather rickety surroundings, however, was nothing short of exquisite. Stoppard’s intellectually highbrow dialogue was not lost on the actors, who were faultlessly convincing, no doubt thanks to some intelligent directing. As such the audience were rapt and responsive to the play’s many subtleties. Ed Phillips carried off Septimus Hodge’s Byronic, languid, Cantabridgian charisma with cool ease, whilst Letty Thomas was the essence of charm as the majestic Lady Croom.

The stars of comic timing were undoubtedly Olivia Foan as the tantalising Chloe Coverly, and Oli Higginson as the caddish, braying TV don, Bernard Nightingale. Both had the audience in fits just by their hilarious body language, with Chloe’s outrageously flirtatious lip biting and Nightingale’s deliberate swagger. At times it was perhaps slightly overdone, but they nonetheless lifted the spirit of the play and it worked to make the ultimate catharsis all the more poignant.

The unforgettable final scene was superbly done: the ghosts of the past, present and imminent, unstoppable, indeterminable future flitted across the stage lit only by fatal candlelight. Those waltzing silhouettes remained etched on the mind’s eye long after the walk home through the deserted streets of Clifton. The echoes of Tame Impala lilting over the piano forte’s keys was an inspired touch. As the haunting notes rang out, our linear conception of time faded and the ‘chinese bridge’ between past and present was at last crossed. The lives lost and found among the pages of poetry and mathematics were laid bare, and as the play narrowed towards inevitable tragedy, the genius of our greatest living playwright shone out from the flickering shadows.

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