The topic of discussion was Tom Stoppard's work of art, Arcadia. For once, I was enraptured with the conversation as we looked at the nature of chaos theory vs order; chaos in science, chaos in love, chaos in sex and chaos in fate, Fermat's Last Theorem, Byron and Japanese cars, the influence of the past on the misunderstandings of the present, Classicism vs Romanticism, dahlia's and a monkey bite, game books and tortoises all wrapped up in a candle lit waltz and some quick fire dialogue, rapier humour and sparkling wit.
I was fortunate enough to be able to see a production of the Olivier award winning play in 1998 and then I discovered that the English Touring Theatre were bringing it to my home town (Bromley). As my parents still live there, it was the perfect opportunity to grab some tickets for the Churchill Theatre and then go back to theirs for some of mum's home cooking.
It normally stars with "well, it has my favourite line from any play in it.
Chater: You insulted my wife in the gazebo yesterday evening
Septimus: You are mistaken. I made love to your wife in the gazebo. She asked me to meet her there, I have her note somewhere, I dare say I could find it for you, and if someone is putting it about that I did not turn up, by God, sir, it is a slander
That pretty much sets the tone for the entire play.
Arcadia is set in two time periods, 1809 and modern day, and all the action takes place in one central room of Sidley Park, the family home of the Croom / Coverly families. In 1809 Septimus Hodge is the tutor to Thomasina Croom, the precocious and endearingly innocent daughter of Lord and Lady Croom. Lord Byron, the poet and school friend of Hodge, is staying for the weekend. In the modern day, scholars Hannah Jarvis and Bernard Nightingale are trying to unravel the events of that weekend.
The title of the play is taken from the longer phrase 'Et in Arcadia ego'; the accurate translation of which is the subject of some academic debate. Arcadia refers to the pastoral ideal; the phrase literally translates as "and in Arcadia I" but a 1637 painting by Poussin offers the translation of 'Even in Arcadia, there am I', spoken by Death. This duality of meaning is typical of Stoppard throughout this play as well as foreshadowing events to come; Thomasina's eventual death and Septimus' subsequent madness and self-banishment from society as he tries to prove her theories.
Characters embody these functions. Valentine, the modern day eldest son of the household, is cynical, clinical and detached. He is dry and observant, putting all his faith into his formulas, and yet is thrown at the idea that Thomasina, a home educated 19C, 13 year old girl, could be exploring concepts that have only been in existence for a few years, calculating sums that his laptop needs to process a few million times. Thomasina alternates between being a precocious, intellectually advanced woman who is grasping around the edges of concepts she does not have the life experience to yet draw parallels with, and a little girl who is still excited at the idea of boiled ham, cabbages and a rice pudding for dinner.
see here for dates and venues.
The reason I was so keen to see this play again, other than the fact that I love it, is that I have been approved to direct it for the Canterbury Players autumn show at the Gulbenkian theatre.
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