Stoppard, takes the idea of the arrow of time and lets fly, and
somehow manages to orchestrate with a certain brilliant audacity a
work that has some of the features of a great piece of music:
complexity, layering, the pleasure and solace of reprise (the word
with all its senses of taking back) and recapitulation (and here
the poetic sense of giving in to...again).
created a dazzling and dense fabric of words woven through with
ideas: the differences between the Classical and Romantic
temperaments, the history of landscaped gardens, chaos and
entropy, iteration and algorithms, thermodynamics, Newton (and
apples in gardens), steam engines, Fermat’s theorem, heat and
cold, Lord Byron, Caroline Lamb, literary researchers and
academics, time, tortoises and hares...winning by a hare’s
breadth. High comedy (at times the glitter is all Wildean
farce) touched with loss and sorrow (for even in Arcadia is death)
and love at its most delicate and poignant for this is Stoppard at
his most ambitious.
academic researchers Hannah Jarvis (Lia Williams) and Bernard
Nightingale (Billy Crudup)
begins in 1809 in an English country house and garden with a young
Thomasina Coverly (Bel Powley) and her tutor Septimus Hodge (a
superb Tom Riley) and the question of carnal embrace. The
house is peopled with Thomasina’s mother Lady Croom, Noakes the
landscape designer, and Lady Croom’s guests and then Stoppard
moves forward to the present time and the Coverlys who live there
now and the academic researchers who have come to uncover the
past—Hannah Jarvis, who is doing research for a book on the mad
hermit of Sidley Park (who lived in the picturesque hermitage that
Noakes had created as part of the landscaping for the Crooms) and
Bernard Nightingale (an overly vibrant Billy Crudup) who is
snooping around for a literary coup that involves Byron.
the loss of the library of Alexandria to fire:
Septimus! – can you bear it? All the lost plays of the Athenians!
...thousands of poems – Aristotle’s own library.... How can we
sleep for grief?”
counting our stock.... We shed as we pick up, like travellers who
must carry everything in their arms, and what we let fall will be
picked up by those behind. The procession is very long and
life is very short. We die on the march. But there is
nothing outside the march so nothing can be lost to it. The
missing plays of Sophocles will turn up piece by piece, or be
written again in another language. Ancient cures for
diseases will reveal themselves once more. Mathematical
discoveries glimpsed and lost to view will have their time
Stoppard and the book-satchel he travels with....
(from The New
And then a
few years later another fire, and, also, letters that burn.
There is a gliding back and forth between the centuries and Tom
Stoppard recovers Thomasina and time for us (and we don’t think
the name of the brilliant, precocious girl is quite a coincidence)
and past and present coming together on the stage is art
triumphing over the science of time.
the 2009 revival in London and the current one in New York have
reinforced the strength of the play’s position. If David
Leveaux’s production is far from perfect (an uneven cast, and a
set that cried out for more furniture, more books, a garden one
could see outside) it is still a chance to see a play that is
considered Stoppard’s best work and quite possibly the greatest
work for theatre of our time.
if there is an equation for a curve like a bell, there must be an
equation for one like a bluebell, and if a bluebell, why not a
Thomasina asks years before Septimus
is to fall in love with her....
later Valentine Coverly is to say:
unpredictable and the predetermined unfold together to make
everything the way it is. It's how nature creates itself, on
every scale, the snowflake and the snowstorm.”
Broadway at the Barrymore Theatre
books love england
in earnest. She
arms around him.
of his copy of Arith-metica, Fermat wrote that
he had discovered a wonderful proof
his theorem but,
the margin being
too narrow for his purpose, did
not have room to write