Went to see Arcadia by Tom Stoppard at the Duke Of York’s last night. Thoughts.
The play’s very self-consciously ‘intellectual’, wearing its learning and thematic complexity on its sleeve. It’s about chaos theory, romanticism, trivia-obsessed literary historians and gardening. Which is all very fascinating. Less fascinating is that it’s also about some people in the early eighteenth century talking about all this and another group of people in the twentieth century talking about all this. So obsessed is it with its own ingenuity there’s very little actual drama, giving the actors very little to do except attempt to make lectures on the second law of Thermodynamics sound spontaneous.
The multitude of themes don’t really mesh together – they’re explored intelligently, but you’d expect comparisons and contrasts to be drawn, you’d hope each idea would be used to reflect light onto the others. Instead, you’re left thinking that all that Lord Byron has to do with iterative algorithms is that Tom Stoppard decided to put them in the same play. It’s a jigsaw puzzle – but one which only adds to the sum of the parts and which ends up looking like a dozen different jigsaws glued together.
Most of the actors did a fine job, if lacking in confidence, though one or two had clearly read the blurb about the play being a ‘comedy’ and were treating it as such, even though, for me, the comedic lines were just another element thrown into the mix for the sake of clever-cleverness. The science bits were also frustrating, from a Maths perspective, as they were all Entry-Level – not inaccurate, but only remotely impressive to people who don’t know all this stuff already.
Still, Jonny goes to an opening night! Tom Stoppard was there! In the bar, some critics were giving it two weeks.