15 Jul Arcadia by Tom Stoppard
Directed by Andrew Hilton
27 March – 19 April 2014 and in repertoire 24 April – 03 May
Production Photos © 2014 Graham Burke
Hannah Lee Thomasina Coverly
Piers Wehner Septimus Hodge
Christopher Bianchi Jellaby
Vincenzo Pellegrino Ezra Chater
Alan Coveney Richard Noakes
Dorothea Myer-Bennett Lady Croom
Paul Currier Captain Brice
Polly Frame Hannah Jarvis
Daisy May Chloë Coverly
Matthew Thomas Bernard Nightingale
Jack Wharrier Valentine Coverly
Tom England Gus Coverly/Augustus
Director Andrew Hilton
Assistant Director Nicholas Finegan
Set & Costume Designer Harriet de Winton
Costume Supervisor Jane Tooze
Composer & Sound Designer Dan Jones
Choreographer Kay Zimmerman
Production Manager Chris Bagust
Company & Stage Manager Kevin Smith
Deputy Stage Manager Rhiannon Rutley
Assistant Stage Managers Caroline Steele & Kate Hilditch
Wardrobe Mistress Victoria Aylwin
★★★★ The Observer Arcadia is a departure in genre but not in quality for Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory … Sped along with a battery of jokes, the real dramatic ingenuity is to make the structure of the play part of its argument. To talk about the irreversibility of consequences and to show it. To declare that “sooner or later we are all going to end up at room temperature” and to question this in fiery action. This is a play whose influence can still be seen – most recently in Nick Payne’s Constellations. Yet Andrew Hilton’s production brings out something more surprising. The staging is in the round and close to the audience; arguments become intimate as the lighting softens to a mellow glow. The members of the cast are mostly familiar to regular attenders at this theatre, which has created an informal company. The benefits are enormous. We see a warmth that quickens the heart of the action. Susannah Clapp
★★★★ The Guardian Twenty-one years young, Tom Stoppard’s drama of gardening and chaos theory – in which we witness events in a Derbyshire country house taking place more than a century apart – is regularly cited as one of the great plays of the last 50 years, and the playwright’s undisputed masterpiece. I wouldn’t dream of disagreeing: this is a play of ideas that pits the classical against the romantic, science against poetry, the past against the present. But it has a racing heart, too, exploring what it is that makes us human and our determination to keep dancing even as the darkness gathers and the universe grows cold.
It’s by no means bomb-proof. It needs a sense of fun to keep these theatrical plates spinning, and it gets one from Andrew Hilton, who brings the same cool clarity that he has brought to Shakespeare at this address. It’s a neat pairing, too, that it plays in rep with that most pastoral of comedies, As You Like It. But whereas Rosalind and Orlando find love in the Forest of Arden, here it’s lost. In this carefully fashioned man-made arcadia, death stalks the artfully arranged shrubberies at Sidley Park.
Hilton is more than a match for Stoppard’s dancing intelligence, but he finds a flaming warmth, too, particularly in a delicious central performance by Hannah Lee as Thomasina Coverly, an early-19th-century teenage maths prodigy determined to find out all she can about the world. Thomasina’s ceaseless quest for knowledge is pitched against the late 20th-century characters who, through advancements in maths, science and computer modelling, know so much more about how the world works, but are still in thrall to their own chaotic hearts. It’s in the final scenes, as the membrane between the centuries begins to dissolve, that the play becomes most affecting. There is something heartbreaking about a work that arms its audience with so much information even as it points up the unknowability of history.
Set around a single large table, the intimacy of the proceedings thrills in this unaffected revival. Lee’s openness is beautifully contrasted by the witty artifice of her mother, Lady Croom (an enjoyably stylish turn by Dorothea Myer-Bennett), and Polly Frame and Matthew Thomas are terrific value as an emotionally distanced writer reluctant to join the dance of life, and an arrogant academic who believes he knows why Byron departed England in 1809. But then as Thomasina’s tutor, Septimus, says: “When we have found all the mysteries and lost all the meaning, we will be alone on the empty shore.” Lyn Gardner
★★★★ Whats On Stage We know they can do Shakespeare. We know they can do Chekhov and Molière. This production of what for many of us is the finest play of the past 25 years proves without a doubt that they can do Stoppard too. This is Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory’s first production of a contemporary work and they perform it as if to the manner born. John Campbell
A Younger Theatre It’s hard to recall a better night in the theatre recently. The characters are deeply engaging (to the point where, Romeo and Juliet-style, you want to start calling out warnings), the costumes are gorgeous, the cast are superlative and the script is razor-sharp. Hilton has done justice to what is probably my favourite non-Shakespeare play, giving the Tobacco Factory yet another unmissable production. stf’s Arcadia is basically flawless, and I’m still grinning whenever I think about it. Go. Eleanor Turney
★★★★★ The Morning Star Andrew Hilton directs his first non-Shakespearean play at the Tobacco Factory with the same clarity of depiction that characterises all his work … The setting, a room at Sidley Park in 1809 and the same room now, is dominated by a grand table where poetry, geometry, garden designs, history and sex are discussed and fought over. The inhabitants of both rooms mirror the roles and relationships across the two centuries, fragments of conversations and even costumes are echoed down through time.
The modern era attempts to reconstruct the events of the earlier period, suggesting an algorithmic approach to comprehending the world, reflected in the studies of two of the central characters from the contrasting eras. This may make the production sound dry and hard work. But Stoppard’s wit and eccentric characters are enthusiastically grasped by Hilton’s 12-strong cast.
Piers Wehner’s 19th-century Byronesque tutor charismatically dominates early scenes expounding and expanding on knowledge and sex to the Sidley Park household, while Matthew Thomas’s modern-day populist academic mirrors the role in a flamboyant, self-aggrandising manner as he reconstructs earlier events to fit his thesis. The aloof Lady Croon (Dorothea Myer-Bennett) generates much of the humour with her sarcastic, Wildean wit in the 19th-century scenes, as do the interactions between Hannah Lee’s insightful student and her tutor … Hilton’s production clearly reveals Stoppard’s central tenet that the heat of relationships confuses any scientific or mathematical grasp of the reality. But at the heart, “wanting to know makes us matter,” is what really drives the energy and clarity of this production. Simon Parsons
Plays International Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory might have been expected to find it tough to follow the success of As You Like It, but choosing Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia has proved a triumph for director Andrew Hilton … Arcadia is considered by many to be Stoppard’s best play so has been staged frequently over the last twenty years, but I can’t imagine a more exciting revival. The in-the-round staging and minimal props ensure a fast-paced linking of the play’s double timelines which alternate as different generations explore the history of mathematical formulae, landscape gardening and Byron, each thread intertwined and each intriguing revelation neatly fitted into the story. As well as cleverly complex, the story – in this production – is very, very funny. Brilliant directing from Andrew Hilton is supported by terrific acting from all the cast, with Matthew Thomas charismatic as the 20th Century academic, Piers Wehner & Hannah Lee totally enticing as the 19th Century tutor and his gifted pupil and Dorothea Myer-Bennett superbly Wildean-witty as Lady Croom.
With productions of this quality now also touring, stf has become a must-see company for many theatre-goers in the southwest and beyond … Crysse Morrison