THEATRE REVIEW / Chaos theories: Rhoda Koenig on the West End transfer of Tom Stoppard's 'exhaustingly brilliant' Arcadia

You can stir the jam into the pudding, observes Thomasina Coverly, but you can't stir it out again. This teenage mathematical genius of the Regency is demonstrating the flaw in Newtonian physics, but her metaphor could also apply to the tom-cat among the pigeons or the bee in the academic bonnet, to name only two chaos-bearing elements in Tom Stoppard's play. A romantic, historical and mathematical mystery, Arcadia shows how intellectual and erotic energy, as well as crude ambition, will generate brilliance and mischief, even after their generators are exhausted or dead.

For the West End transfer of the National Theatre's success of last year, Trevor Nunn has assembled a sturdy cast. In the contemporary scenes of this sometimes exhaustingly brilliant play, Roger Allam's portrayal of the swaggering Byron scholar Bernard Nightingale gives us a caricature to match any Regency beau in extravagant self-praise and offhand sexual invitation. This media-wise don plugs his theories with feet planted firmly apart, knees bent, and forearms raised, as if about to launch into a chorus of 'Mammy'. He switches on a look of pleading- doggie wistfulness when trying to soften up a competitor, and sort of lopes on the spot. But, though entertaining, he is out of kilter with such characters as Rachel Fielding's note- perfect Chloe, the kind of pretty girl - as familiar in conventional West End comedies as in real-life country- house parties - whose terribly nice intentions are matched with a tiny mind and a cute little heart.

As Hannah Jarvis, a more sober academic who is disdainful of Bernard's wishful thinking, Joanne Pearce is, despite some strident perkiness, far more believable. But she might have been even colder and drier at first, with some genuine wistfulness to soften this unfeminine woman as she realises that her research into the Romantic period is leading her down a crooked path to an actual romance, one in which a dead virgin inspires more passion than the most flaming Byronic conquest. The vulnerability in the modern scenes is supplied by the mathematician Valentine, whose pet tortoise symbolises his slow start but triumphant finish in the intellectual race. At first dismissing Thomasina's notes of her equations, Valentine pushes her premises to their conclusion, not only earning Hannah's respect but emerging from the shell of timidity which Charles Simpson's sensitive performance renders touchingly disturbing as well as comic.

Valentine's tenderness recalls that of Septimus, Thomasina's tutor in 1809, whose extra-curricular attentions embrace the lady of the house as well as a flamboyant guest. Edward Atterton, starting off a bit like a Regency public-address system, soon relaxes into the part of the overly articulate young man who pays tribute to his growing love for his pupil with silence. Consoling his charge as she weeps over the destruction of the library at Alexandria, he says: 'The procession is very long, life very short. We die on the march . . . Others pick up what we leave behind.' The last seems a frigid comfort, but, after we see the long-dead Thomasina's theories reborn, it little matters whose hand inscribed the work that lives. And Thomasina herself converts Septimus's point into a life-affirming proposition. Lucy Whybrow's charming prodigy, as ingenuously radiant over her discovery of kissing as of fractal geometry, cries, 'We must hurry if we're going to dance]'

What the production's strengths don't disguise, however, is that Stoppard's concept outdistances its execution: the philosophical, scientific, and emotional ingredients of the play often remain apart, like peas in a jelly, rather than swirling together like the pudding and the jam. The unremitting cleverness has neither the power of true wit nor of unexceptional remarks emerging, with pointed brilliance, from well-drawn characters. When Arcadia stops for breath, and feeling, it gives us something more than classy chatterers; but, on the whole, one feels the need of a few more shadows to balance all that brightness.

At the Haymarket Theatre Royal, London SW1 (071-930 8800)

(Photograph omitted)

Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
    Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

    Marian Keyes

    The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

    Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

    Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
    Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

    Rodgers fights for his reputation

    Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
    Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

    Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

    'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
    Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick