Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Arcadia

I took my life in my hands last night and went along to a book group that has been meeting in Moreton for about six months or so, to discuss 'Arcadia' by Tom Stoppard. I had actually seen the notice with enough time to acquire and read the book that they were reading. So, it was quite an experience (the word 'themes' was used on more than one occasion!) but great, because they had all read the book, and not only read it but really thought about it and had interesting opinions and reflections to share.

Anyway, Arcadia is a play, set partly in 1809 and partly in the present day (it was first staged in 1993) in a large country house inhabited by the Cloverly family. I am still not to sure about the whole 'themes' thing as in conversation with my sister's partner Geoff on sunday he said it was all about quantum physics and I should look up Fermat's Last Theorem on wiki and make myself sound very clever. Although there are conversations about mathematical ideas in the play it was not the way I read it at all. The play has the two parts which are played out in separate scenes but within the same stage setting, a large room furnished primarily with a large table, the contents of which form an integral part of the plot. It jumps back and forth between the two separate but interlocked stories: the first story concerning Thomasina and her tutor Septimus, the remodelling of the gardens and a not inconsequential sexual indiscretion in the gazebo; in the second part Hannah and Bernard are separately researching events at the house, and trying to figure out who the elusive hermit might have been. The presence, or not, of the poet Byron, and his part in the events concerned, is a cause for much debate. In the final part of the play you have characters from both parts of the story on the stage together, crossing over each other and drawing together the strands of the tale.

I so enjoyed reading this play and will jump at the chance to see it on the stage some time. It is not something you can sum up easily but everything about it was so clever. The writing is just wonderful, every exchange is important, the characters are all real people, it is very witty and made me laugh out loud several times. The thing that strikes me the most though is even just reading it I could visualise how it would look on the stage, and how it makes perfect use of the medium. Many plays are just people telling a story on a stage, this play uses the stage and the coming and goings of the actors to it's fullest effect. The importance of the props is one example, the book that Thomasina writes in, the plans for the new garden, letters tucked inside a poetry book, and most importantly the tortoise, and also music playing in the background as a link between the two time periods. Even to turn it into a film would be pointless, because it has only one setting, if you tried to move the action outside for example, into the garden, you would gain nothing and lose something essential to the play. It is just a perfect piece of theatre.

1 comment:

  1. I love this play so much! I'm a huge fan of Tom Stoppard's, but I've never seen one of his plays performed. I thought I was going to get to see Arcadia in London last year, but every time I tried to get tickets it was sold out. :/

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