Pros: Tom Stoppard’s phenomenal script and the Tower Theatre Company’s accessible approach to the play.
Cons: Some of the acting feels amateurish but it’s an amateur production, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise!
Before being subjected to a more box office-friendly sounding title, Arcadia was originally titled Et in Arcadia Ego. I’ll save you the Latin lesson since you can find out all about it in Wikipedia but this sentence, which is still a product of much academic speculation, is basically a reminder of human mortality. That’s not a light start but if anything, Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia is not a light play.
Set in a country house in Derbyshire, the action of Arcadia takes place in both the early 19th century and in the present day (the play was written in 1993). In the past we have Thomasina Coverly, a bright teenager with precocious ideas on mathematics and physics, and Septimus Hodge, her cynical and charming tutor, who is also a friend of Lord Byron. Concurrently in the present, Hannah Jarvis, author of a best-seller on Byron’s mistress Lady Caroline Lamb, is in the same estate where Thomasina lived investigating a hermit who once inhabited the grounds. She is there with Valentine Coverly, a PhD student in mathematical biology who knows about Thomasina’s work and wants to acknowledge her theories.
Shortly after their arrival they are joined by literature professor Bernard Nightingale, who is researching a chapter in the life of Lord Byron and has a theory about the famous poet staying in the country house. As the action develops we find out what happened to Thomasina and Septimus, as well as to the other dwellers of the house, and their relation with the present characters.
Arcadia is a masterwork and a joy to see. It deals with many fascinating subjects such as time, science, sex and the contrast between emotion and the intellect. Although it overflows with scientific terminology and academic jargon, Stoppard does a skilfull job explaining everything through his characters in an accessible and visual way. However, it’s definitely advisable to read a summary of the play before seeing it on stage (or even better read Stoppard’s beautiful script) as it deals with so many themes and gives out so much information that certain details can easily escape us.
The thirteen strong cast are a mixture of amateur and more the experienced. Some performances are stronger than others but it was plain to see that all of them had a great time working on this play.
Tower Theatre Company’s amateur production of Arcadia is a traditional one. The direction is conservative and there are no experimental surprises. Taking into account the complexity of the plot, I think this was a sucessfull approach. A more innovative and original version could have had greater appeal, but it could have also been a risky pick. The traditional approach is consistent to the Tower Theatre Company’s aim of making theatre accessible to all audiences regardless of age or background, and that’s certainly praiseworthy. After all, what’s the point of making a cutting-edge production if only a bunch of people will be able to enjoy it?
Author: Tom Stoppard
Director: Peta Barker
Producer: Tower Theatre Company
Booking Until: 7 April 2018 (This run has now completed)
Box Office: 020 7353 1700
Booking Link: http://www.towertheatre.org.uk/