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Thomasina Coverly (Bel Powley) and her tutor Septimus Hodge (Tom Riley)

   

 

 

     

 

Broadway Revival

 

 

Tom Stoppard's Arcadia

 

 

In Arcadia....Tom 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).

 

Stoppard has 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.

 


The academic researchers Hannah Jarvis (Lia Williams) and Bernard Nightingale (Billy Crudup)

 

The play 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.

 

Thomasina on the loss of the library of Alexandria to fire: “Oh, 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?”

 

And Septimus answers, “By 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 again...."

 


Tom Stoppard and the book-satchel he travels with....
(from The New York Times)

 

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.

 

If anything, 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.

 

“Septimus, 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 rose?" Thomasina asks years before Septimus is to fall in love with her....

 

And centuries later Valentine Coverly is to say: "The 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.”  

 

 

See: Arcadia, on Broadway at the Barrymore Theatre

 

Read: Arcadia, Tom Stoppard

 

 

Tags: theatre  literature  language   books   love    england  gardens   geometry   pattern   Romantic

 

 

 

 

 

He

 kisses her again,
in earnest.  She
 puts her
arms around him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In
the margin
 of his copy of Arith-metica, Fermat wrote that
he had discovered a wonderful proof
of
 his theorem but,
the margin being
too narrow for his purpose, did
not have room to write
 it
down.

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