Arcadia is a play of words and ideas. In it, Stoppard challenges both cast and audience in significant and fascinating ways. The characters need to be lively, smart, amusing, strong and true to their eras. In the audience Stoppard assumes at least an awareness of mathematics, gardening history, chaos theory and literature, among others. So it’s a particular set of challenges that faced Director Matthew Chapman and his company, when taking on this clever play.
Did they succeed? They certainly did.
There are two parallel stories. One is set in the stately Sidley Park household in the early 19th Century. The other involves a modern group of academics who are absorbed in discovering the truth of the actions of the household in that earlier time.
The simple set served the production well enough. The central large table worked very well for both eras, and formed the focus for much of the action. By the time the characters from both times found themselves concurrently at the table, it seemed entirely natural. Neither group acknowledged the presence of the other but because they had both occupied that place, the combination was seamless.
Pari Nehvi shone in the role of Thomasina, the teenage daughter of the Sidley Park household. Her Thomasina was lively, clever, insightful and confident. She successfully showed that Thomasina’s apparent naivety was a mask for her searching intelligence and genius.
Robert Baulderstone was splendid in his carriage of the crisp dialogue and artful arrogance of Septimus, Thomasina’s tutor and friend of Lord Byron. His timing and tone were near perfect and added considerably to the humour of his exchanges with the other characters. Importantly, he convinced us that he was truly of the times.
Kate Anolak was engaging and controlled as Lady Croom. She had some of the very best lines – often as archly judgemental retorts – and delivered them precisely and with warm humour.
A notable addition to the action was Maxwell Whigham as Ezra Chater, cuckolded by Septimus. He displayed studied foppishness and somewhat comic wounded pride to a tee, and a remarkable cultured voice which helped define the role.
The modern day characters were equally convincing. John Rosen used his experience well in his characterisation of Bernard Nightingale. He was bombastic, arrogant, loud and driven. Rosen blasted his way through Bernard’s investigations into the household’s past, while dismissing, until the end, the often gaping holes in his logic. Allison Scharber was a wonderful counterfoil to his bombast as Hannah, who was researching the 19th Century hermit of Sidley Park. She was determined, strong and intelligent. That was clearly apparent in both Hannah’s research and in her interaction with the other characters. Guy Henderson as the mathematician Valentine and Monika Lapka as his sister, Chloe, provided strong support and, because of their status as the modern occupants of the household, gave context to the action. Frederick Pincombe played their younger sibling, the silent, enigmatic Gus as well as Augustus Coverly of the 19th Century family. He was convincing as both, and made both a telling connection between the two eras, while posing more questions about the passage of time.
This production delighted the audience. The Theatre Guild faithfully preserved Stoppard’s sparkling, fast-paced dialogue, fascinating characters and the important ideas he examines.