From a purely aesthetic point of view, the President’s Garden in Magdalen College provided a marvellous backdrop to this skilful and enjoyable production of Arcadia, yet, with an irony that Stoppard himself may have enjoyed, such sumptuous surroundings were the only drawback for the Magdalen Players’ latest offering.
The choice of Arcadia for this year’s Magdalen Garden play was inspired. The natural stone stage, worn with centuries of previous Players’ footsteps, was framed not only by immaculate hedging and rows of blossoming flowers, but also by the fantastically obtrusive lighting scaffold. Before the play even began, we were made aware of the essential interplay of past and present that so characterises Arcadia.
This production was presented with finesse: the set and costumes provided the perfect combination of representation and nuance for a play that continually swaps between the early 19th century and the modern day.
Not only does the epoch continually alter, but so too the tone and pace of the scenes allowing a large variety of performances, thoughtfully handled by director Mimi Goodall. The more energetic scenes were suitably decadent, Susannah Cohen’s timing was outstanding throughout, and Andrew Wynn Owen’s almost caricatured portrayal of Ezra Chater provided a welcome interlude to other more intellectual moments – moments that were incidentally mastered by Nathan Ellis’ enigmatic Valentine.
It was such dialogue-heavy scenes which produced some of the finest theatrical moments of the production. Ben Goldstein’s Septimus Hodge was beguiling and crass in equal measure. His struggle to contain his sprightly young pupil, played by an impressive Julia Gibbon, was a particular highlight of the production. Meanwhile, Ellie Page threatened to steal the show with her crisp delivery and cynical disinterest.
The production was dexterous and the performance was very enjoyable.
Yet, however tactless of me it might be to mention the weather, it is unfortunately wholly unavoidable. At times, as 10 o’ clock came and went on a crisp spring night, it was difficult to concentrate on some of Stoppard’s more intricate wordplay for fear of frostbite. It was very cold, far too cold to be outside. I am fully aware that the Magdalen Garden Play must, by nature, be performed outside and, moreover, I believe the environment added a whole new dimension to this production; however, shivering under two blankets and struggling to hear the actors over the chattering teeth of fellow audience members is not an agreeable experience.
I would certainly recommend this production, but maybe try and book the matinee performance.
PHOTO / Arcadia