Arcadia Review

December 18, 2010

Past and present, truth’s and falsehood’s glide across the stage in Patrick Masons production of Tom Stoppard’s hotchpotch drama Arcadia,
revived at the Gate Theatre for the first time since 1999. Exploring chaos theory, landscape gardening ,entropy and  thermodynamics between
the sometimes chaste often highly sexed actions of its characters this aesthetically pleasing production provides much food for thought and
some decorous performances. But while Stoppard stimulates us intellectually the whole piece seems caught between the tragic and the
comic, between the head and the heart, a ruminative nights theatre but not a paticularly passionalte one.

The action is split between the early 1800s and the mid 1990s, between the work of a brilliant 19th centuary student and her tutor and two
sparring modern day scholars.Events in both periods are staged in the front room of a country house where poetic and academic rivalaries
come to the fore; demands for satisfaction lead to duels to the death, hurried exits and some brilliant one liners while the past is disected
and the future mapped out.

In the past 13 year old Lady Thomasina Coverly(Beth Cooke), under the tutolage of Septimous Hodge(Marty Rea), a fictious schoolmate of Lord
Byron, stumbles across and deciphers some of the great mathematical mysteries of our time as all manor of adulteras “pokes” are being delivered  by the adults around her. In the present two writers, the hard nosed Hannah Jarvis(Ingrid Craigie) and the fame famished Bernard Nightingale (Andrew Whipp) are vastly different in aproach and style, yet cautiiously begin to collaborate in the hopes of discovering if there is truth to Nightingale’s belief that Lord Byron murdered a fellow writer on the property before ravaging him in print. It’s a literary who done it unfolding across two time periods and suplimented with musings on the meaning of life, the value of art and a rash case against sciene.

It seems to me to be the kind of show that gets richer with repeated viewing. I can only judge by my solitary one which lacked verve and bite with characters trading theories but never comfortably conveying that they know what they were on about. Ingrid Craigie  brings a lax dispasion to the role of Jarvis, amused but not attracted to Whipp’s crude, self satisfied Nightingale. But paired together you never buy their profesional rivalry, their continous attempts at one upmanship. They state but never show it. There was to much respect infused in their performances and their barbs broke no skin. It’s as if their having such fun creating these characters that they have forgotten that they get on each others tits.
The supporting cast of present day characters never gel either. Hugh O Connor is solid on his own as Valentine Coverly, a coy 20th centuary maths whizz who proves Thomasna’s genius and who has a tender A-sexual relationship with Jarvis. But his profesional squabbles with Nightingale
never come to life (could it be that Whipp’s comedic performance repelled interaction on any other level?) and he,  along with Gavin Fullam as Gus,his mute younger brother and Aoibheann O’Hara as Chloe, his sister and seducer of Bernard, fail to bring to the fore a credible family unit.
In the past, Donna Dent lacks clarity and cohesion as the amerous Lady Croom, Stephen Swift is sufficently bumbeling as the cuckold Ezra Chater( a middling poet, with few morals and a slovenly wife whose spread legs put into motion the literary cludeo) while Barry McGovern and Mark O Regan
do what is expected with little suprises, the problem when you cast major actors in minor roles. Rea is the most comfortable with the Wildean whit sparkeled throughout the script and is well paired with Cooke, who takes a while to find her footing. Her Thomasina is less wise beyond her years and more older than she should be. But when she finally strikes the right chord she illicits our support and our sympathies.
But it comes to late in the day for us to really gain anything from her demise.The whole thing runs out of steam as the cast doggedly work through the cerebral script and while it was never dull it never came alive either. You watch the characters dig away at the plot but are rarely moved by what they throw up.

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