Arcadia – Review

Feb 6 2014 | By More

✭✭✭✩✩   Thoroughly enthralling

Bedlam Theatre Wed 5 – Sat 8 Feb 2014

Big, wordyand endlessly fascinating, Tom Stoppard’s modern classic Arcadia is given an entertaining revival at the Bedlam theatre for a four night run.

Arcadia at Bedlam Pedro Leandro and Lauren Moreau. Photo © Paul Alistair Collins

Pedro Leandro and Lauren Moreau. Photo © Paul Alistair Collins

Directors Eric Geistfield and Charlotte Hodge have created a tight (for the most part) and enthralling piece of theatre which allows Stoppard’s articulate script to flow back and forth between the two time periods in which the play is set.

The first of these is 1809 in Sidley Park, a grand Derbyshire country house where clever young Oxbridge graduate Septimus Hodge has been employed to tutor the 13 year-old Thomasina Coverly, daughter of the house.

While the precociously bright Thomasina is rising to every challenge Septimus can throw at her – including making her own postulation on Fermat’s famous last theorem – Septimus is caught having carnal relations with the wife of house guest, the poet Ezra Chater.

Pedro Leandro has exactly the right mix of reserve and flippant arrogance for the role of Septimus – probably more affected by his surroundings than he is letting on. No less wise, but able to let her emotions and feelings shine, Lauren Moreau’s Thomasina is perfectly believable as her intellectual abilities grow out of control.

Around their morning tutorials, there is a constant frenetic turmoil in the house. Beyond resident poets and (unseen) visits from Lord Byron, Lady Croom (the occasionally formidable Rosie Pierce) is employing landscape gardner Mr Noakes (Lewis Robertson) to tear up the classical idyll the current grounds and replace it with his new notions of the romantic landscape – including a hermitage.

As if this time period were not enough – the tutor-pupil device allows the script to rise to the heights of philosophical discussion while diving into the depths of soap-opera intrigue as Henry Conklin’s ineffectual, cuckolded Chater demands satisfaction from Septimus – a second series of scenes – alternating with the first – is set in the present.

An utterly brilliant concoction
Sita Sharma, Rik Hart and Valentine Coverly. Photo © Paul Alistair Collins Photography

Sita Sharma, Rik Hart and Valentine Coverly. Photo © Paul Alistair Collins Photography

It is the same room in Sidley Park – with the same table and even the same growing mound of paraphernalia – where, once again there is a mix of family members and visitors.

Here, the key characters are academics Hannah Jarvis (a quietly controlled and forthright Sita Sharma) who is researching the role of the hermit who seemed to have lived in Noakes’ Hermitage; and the interloping Bernard Nightingale (the ebullient, bright-eyed Rik Hart) who is convinced that he can discover a hitherto uncharted episode in Byron’s life which he believes took place in the house.

As the two timeframes play out, and become increasingly enmeshed, things learned in one add to the understanding of the other. All the while such trifling matters as the nature of historical interpretation, determinism, entropy and academic study are up for debate.

It is an utterly brilliant concoction from Stoppard. He fully utilises a 12-strong cast, it has dramatic tension, real tragedy and comedy, while the zeitgeist of the two time-periods is persuasively used. The contemporary scenes sit easily in the here and now, although written in 1993.

But it is a complicated stew. One which demands clarity if it is not to seem too clever, a great deal of comedy to counterpoint it, and the creation of strong and credible characters in Thomasina, Septimus, Hannah and, to a slightly lesser extent, modern-day mathematician Valentine Coverly.

Geistfield and Hodge have brought out much of this. The clarity of the phylosophical and mathematical debate and theorems is excellent. Mostly it is the comedy which falls short – Rosie Pierce’s Lady Croom is occasionally too over the top and Lewis Robertson’s Noakes is always so – but the dry wit cuts through well.

Elsewhere the delivery is fast and sound, the final scene where past and present become mixed is adroitly done and the characterisation of the more rounded characters easily does enough to carry the human drama of the piece.

An entertaining production of a brilliant and profound, hilarious and poignant piece of theatre.

Running time 2 hrs 45 mins
Run ends Saturday 8 February 2014.
Bedlam Theatre, 11b Bristo Place, Edinburgh, EH1 1EZ
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