I see it written everywhere: 'masterpiece', 'audience favourite', 'one of the 20th century's greatest plays', but is Tom Stoppard's Arcadia living up to its prior reviews? The STC have revived it after more than two decades due to clear popular demand. Needless to say, I was intrigued and my expectations were incredibly high when I attended, presuming I would be of the same opinion as so many of my theatrical betters. With a lust for something new and modern to ensnare my senses, I hoped this would blow away the competition and yet, I find that I did not, as the poster suggests, fall in love with chaos.
Sidley Park sets the stage for a dual storyline occurring two centuries apart. Beginning in 1809, the English estate houses a dashing tutor named Septimus Hodge and his ebulliently precocious pupil, Thomasina, who are stumbling across Chaos Theory a century too early and are falling in love along the way. However, the desire does not end here, for this estate is privy to all forms of licentiousness, brimming with infidelity, loaded letters, duels and interlopers (one of whom, never even appears). There is always something mischievous afoot.
Turning to the contemporary half of this twisted tale, the sexual undercurrent remains, but in a more cynical form, as two academics go head to head in order to disentangle the knot of past events. The recognition-starved professor, Bernard Nightingale, seeks out bestselling author, Hannah Jarvis, in order to determine what happened in those early years of the 1800s. Constantly at odds, they too fall under the spell of chaos and grapple at clues on scraps of paper as Valentine, a young mathematician, uncovers some of the final pieces of the puzzle.
It's all there: the ideas, the characters, the intricate plot, even prior acclaim, and still, something is not right, something is quite wrong. So let's see if we can figure out what has gone awry?
Upon hearing about the lengths of the mathematical and scientific content, the first conclusion one might jump to is that it is too academic. No, not in the slightest. The actors seem to glide over this with ease and the audience can easily follow (if they pay attention). To this end, the STC even solicited the coaching of a scientist in order to facilitate the process, and it clearly shows. To be fair, this is not the production to see after a mind-melting day at work, and at times it can get a little bogged down, but it won't be too taxing if you bring your thinking cap along. So, no. We can strike academic content off the list.
Right. Well, if the science pans out, what about the *gulp* script? If nothing else, this script is beautifully written. Quick, clever, with bite. Often its sarcastic comebacks and witty repartee left our audience cackling like a couple of kookaburras. Yet, perhaps we scratch the surface here, for it feels to this viewer like cackling on cue. The script is so wickedly good that we cannot help but laugh, it is expected, but it does not erupt from us organically because those on stage entrance us.
This then points to the Achilles heel of the production being the acting. However, many of the central cast sparkle. Ryan Corr delivers a beautifully nuanced performance as Septimus Hodge. If there need be any criticism here, it could only be that perhaps this means he is slightly overshadowed by the more rambunctious characters such as the cuckolded Ezra Chater (Glenn Hazeldine) or the slightly two-dimensional Lady Croom (Blazey Best). Andrea Dimitriades as Hannah Jarvis also brings another skilled performance, with her sparring partner Bernard Nightingale (Josh McConville) just a few steps behind. Yet, if we have to put our finger on it, it has to be that this production is lacking some good, old-fashioned chemistry. Individually, the performances are entertaining, but there seems to be no heat generating from the many pairings on the stage.
One of the key points raised in this production has to be the question of whether all of this knowledge does, in fact, matter. Is it of any consequence who murdered whom or whether we uncover these riddles of the universe? Arguably, it is the journeys these characters undertake in order to reach these ends that mean the most. So, what does it say when we don't feel what we should for these characters? Just as Valentine (Michael Shaesby) comments that all things will inevitably end up at room temperature, I found this production leaving me at just that.
For isn't that what theatre is all about? Being able to stir in someone a particular feeling or idea? Yet, here I find myself at somewhat of a loss: shaken, not stirred. Not having seen its past performances, I have nothing to compare it to. It had all of the promise, all of the ingredients, and yet, I have not fallen in love with chaos. Not this time. It was merely a passing fancy that left me uncharacteristically tepid.