Arcadia, Duke of York's Theatre, London
Monday 08 June 2009
I haven't seen Arcadia since its first night at the National in 1993 but the play seems no less challenging, interesting or beautiful in David Leveaux's poignant revival.
The play is set both in a Derbyshire country house in 1809 and in the modern day as the unseen figure of Lord Byron hightails it to Europe on the Lisbon packet and a student of his fictional poetic contemporary bursts through to unlikely scientific knowledge before the age of the computer; 19th-century bigwigs mingle with 20th-century successors, notably a media-savvy professor and a romantic writer.
Stoppard's son, Ed Stoppard, plays the investigative Valentine Coverly, as if trying further to uncover the meaning of a play that digs deep and never stops digging. One critic described it as Enid Bagnold rewritten by Stephen Hawking: a country house mystery leaping time and charting the end of the universe. I've never resolved whether Stoppard is too clever for me or just too clever for himself, but it's nothing but joy to let his propositions roll around the theatre. Every line has a charge, every scene a question. Did Byron kill the poet he cuckolded? Is Fermat's last theorem, or the second law of aerodynamics, less important to descry than the truth of a perpendicular poke in the gazebo?
Stoppard is creating a dramatic confection from unlikely collisions in science, everyday life and societal movements. Hannah Jarvis is also writing a history of this Sidley Park estate. She's played with aggressive panache by Samantha Bond. There's Nancy Carroll, emerging as one of our finest comediennes, slicing through the historical coincidences and equivocations with the tartness of a young Lady Bracknell.
Carroll is brilliant. She's matched by Dan Stevens as the inquisitive Septimus, Jessie Cave as his genius of a pupil and Neil Pearson as the Melvyn Bragg of the Enlightenment.
Our life is short but the procession of the human comedy is long, and no one in the theatre confronts this truth with more wit, grace and perverse delight than Stoppard. I still can't decide what the play wants to be about: but an evening that gives such pure uncomplicated pleasure on so many complicated matters is a rarity and a cause for general rejoicing.
To 12 September (0870 060 6623).
Arts & Ents blogs
Never before seen personal accounts of Great War offer vivid picture of life at the Front
Neil Patrick Harris talks shooting 'robotic' Gone Girl sex scene with Rosamund Pike
Boy George: Bad karma
PonoMusic: Neil Young reaches Kickstarter target to fund new music player within a day
Disney's Frozen is 'very evil' gay propaganda, says Christian pastor
Katie Hopkins continues campaign to become Britain's most hated talking head with poorly timed Bob Crow tweet
No EU referendum under Labour: Ed Miliband to reveal that vote on membership is ‘unlikely’ in next Parliament if party wins power
Grace Dent: Who cares if she spells it Barraco Barner? Gemma Worrall is more employable than some bookish arts graduate
Fracking is turning the US into a bigger oil producer than Saudi Arabia
Ukraine crisis: Russia pledges to 'retaliate against sanctions' as Ukrainian president says Crimea vote will not be recognised
The quiet diplomat: Catherine Ashton - recognised and admired in all the world’s troubled countries, yet ridiculed at home
- 1 Hells of residence: Inside Macedonia's horrifying student accommodation - where the walls are green and the food is black
- 2 Arrest made after man is found by the side of the road with his penis cut off
- 3 Michael Schumacher 'experience' gives F1 legend chance to 'show his character', says Lewis Hamilton
- 4 Girl found in the Amazon rainforest with neighbour Grover Morales after going missing for 7 months
- 5 Disney's Frozen is 'very evil' gay propaganda, says Christian pastor