Friday, 1 August 2014

Arcadia, Canberra Rep

Tom Stoppard's "Arcadia" is one of his finest plays. It combines deep thought about maths, history, literature and the certain heat death of the universe with a fair few sex jokes (often very witty sex jokes). It's that rare play with both heart AND brains and offers a theatrical feast for the brain and the soul.

Rep's production captures much of this feast and serves it up in fine style. There's a rich variety of performances - from the youngest, Jack Taylor doing double duty as the shy, silent Gus (whose physicality speaks volumes) and the snidely brattish Lord Augustus, to the oldest, Graeme Robertson, whose Jellaby serves up the dryest of dry commentary with perfection and perfectly timed pauses and sniffs.

In between those ages we find two collections of casts. In the 19th century, there's Amelia Green, whose Thomasina is sharp and intelligent yet still the unknowing innocent in so many areas; Matthew Barton as Septimus, her tutor, rakish, sly, yet increasingly bewildered by his pupil; Helen McFarlane, ever the grand lady of the manor; Colin Milner's perfectly blustery, easily flattered and slow-on-the-uptake Chater; David Kavanagh's stiff-upper-lip Captain Brice and Arran McKenna's befuddled and bemused architect, Noakes. In the 20th, Laine Hart's sharply incisive Hannah leads the way, supported by Pat Gallagher's terrifyingly self-confident Bernard; Sam Hannan-Morrow's knowledgeable but heart-sore Valentine and Sian Harrington's bubbly Chole.

It's a rich team who keep a long (close to 3 hours) play flying by with sharp twists, turns and counterplots as events from one timeline start to influence the other in all kinds of unexpected ways - with so many telling small details that a second glance is recommended. The unexpectedly moving finale had my heart skipping a beat. Quentin Mitchell's grand set is capable of close intimacy and broad spread from moment to moment, assisted by the able lighting of Chris Ellyard. Neil McRitchie's sound design combines classical music from the 19th century with all kinds of delightful cheese from 1993, and Michael F. Coady's piano work fits in delightfully.Helen Drum's costuming crosses periods with aplomb.

All in all this is a delightful rich mental pudding of an evening.

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