first night


Kabir Jhala takes the trip to Collingwood to see Tom Stoppard's lofty drama.

I approached Woodplayers production of Tom Stoppards Arcadia with a degree of trepidation. A play that has been hailed the greatest of our time, it deals with a set of themes so diverse it seems difficult to imagine one person, or director, being able to fully comprehend them. As such, I was dubious as to whether the Woodplayers would be able to pull it off. But underestimate them at your own risk as last nights performance was an impressive production which managed to deftly ponder on many of the pivotal questions the play poses, and it handled Stoppards dense script without seeming overwhelmed.

Arcadia tells two intertwined stories of discovery, uncertainty, order, chaos, and love. Both stories are set in the country manor of Sidley Park, but are placed 200 years apart. One story taking place in 1809-12, the other in present day. Two scholars arrive at a country estate hoping to find the answers to questions they have about the houses previous residents. Back in 1809 we find young genius Thomasina, wonderfully portrayed by Zoe Lawton, studying Mathematics under her tutor Septimus Hodge, played by a truly charming Danny Parker. We explore the various relationships of the guests at Sidley Park, and the broad range of ideas and theories that define and determine their universe.

The entire cast should be praised for their ability to handle Stoppards esoteric script which delves into matters as complex as Fermatts Last Theorem, the 19th century struggle between Classicism and Romanticism, laws of thermodynamics and entropy and even carnal embrace! It holds testament to both the actors and director Alice Chambers that without little to no prior knowledge of many of these challenging concepts, I was not wanting for a greater degree of elucidation at any point of the show.

Arguably the best scenes belonged to Lawton and Parker, whose dynamic ranged from inquisitive to playful to romantic and gave the show both some of its greatest laughs, and also its most poignant moments. Lawton showed skill in her ability to portray Thomasina as sufficiently childlike and curious at age 13, though perhaps a greater contrast could have been made when playing Thomasina aged 16 to emphasise the characters growth. Parkers performance as Septimus was superb, imbuing his character with a sufficient degree of both charm and swaggering confidence. Both did well to bring out the balance required to elevate their characters to roles which are suitably both comedic and dramatic, and this balance which Arcadia requires was similarly found between the pompous academic Bernard (Jake Lennon) and emotionally cold Hannah (Yasmin Jones), whose sparring and palpable chemistry carried forth many of the present day scenes.

However, the true highlight of tonights performance was Sophia Martinez, who proved to be a tour de force of comedic sensibility, as she delivered a captivating performance as Lady Croom, the matriarch of Sidley Park. Armed with an enormously convincing and plummy aristocratic accent, she commanded the stage to create a character that was imposing and farcical in equal measure. Although there was some tripping up of words, considering the density and complexity of Stoppards script, they were impressively few and far between.

At times however, the energy levels were uneven, and during some scenes between Jones and Lennon, the pace dragged on due to the sheer volume of the lines, which required a greater deal of energy to be injected in to the scene. Perhaps the most major mistake came in the first scene, where a papier-mâché tortoise (intending to symbolise the endurance of time) was broken. However, this breaking of the symbol of time was not a harbinger of doom but merely a small first night mistake. The play remained slick and few, if any, other mistakes in both movements and scripts were apparent.

The plot of the play itself, which intends for the same props and set to be used between both time periods, allowed for the scene changes to be short and gave the play a great deal of fluidity, seamlessly moving from one time period to the other. The realism which was afforded to the play through excellent use of props and costumes made the confluence of the two time periods all the more striking, and the juxtaposition of the behaviour, language, postures and costumes between the two periods were done exceptionally well. The well-thought-out props and costumes for both time periods, which by the last scene had blended into one, made the final scene a moving portrayal as two couples, 200 years apart, slowly waltzed amidst the great questions of space and time.

In a year where post-truthhas been hailed Oxford English Dictionarys word of the year, Stoppards playwhich directly questions the role of knowledge, whether fact or feeling can lead us to truth, and whether truth is even a useful concepthas never seemed so relevant. I would strongly recommend going to see Woodplayersproduction of Arcadia for a night of riotous laughter and deep introspection. 

2 December 2016

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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