Arcadia by Tom Stoppard: ring any bells? Yeah, I imagined so. And not only because it’s one of the greatest plays of the 21st century, but also because it was performed three times within Oxford alone since January of this year. So, you’ll probably be dismissing the headline as yet another Oxford student company interpretation of Stoppard’s work…
The University of Oxford student company Milk and Two Sugars are bringing an Arcadia that is landscaped with all the intellectual humour and beauty of the script, but painted in with a ticking, beating heart.
The first few words spoken within the play are “carnal embrace”; a hot, heavy and perhaps unexpected beginning to a work that’s typically thought to discuss themes of a rather more intellectual nature. But alongside algorithms, classical literature and Lord Byron’s poetry sits the focus of this production: human relations. The way in for the audience to this convoluted and dense script are indeed these passions, follies and traits of the characters on stage which elucidate these ideas. James Fennemore’s focus on this emotional intellect enables the complexity of these concepts to be understood not in terms of the theories, but the x and y equations of the characters’ interests and relations with those around them.
Incredibly long, rapid, complicated explanations within Stoppard’s script are a feat for any actor to enunciate, let alone convey convincingly on stage. The cast dealt with this excellently, without any evident indications of slips or uncertainties – but, most importantly, with an enthusiasm that you wish your teachers at school could have imitated in those dreary lessons on algebra (where the ticking clock was the only salvation). The entire cast was extremely talented, but actors of particular note were David Shields as Septimus Hodge, who did not falter in his depiction of the tutor in turmoil, Ed Barr-Sim as the eccentric and inquisitive Bernard Nightingale, and Phoebe Hames as Chloe Coverly, whose impish energy really brought a fantastic variation to the moods and interactions on stage.
The importance of time within the play was wonderfully depicted by the set; tall windows and bookcases truly gave a sense of this world, and the large clock in the centre traced the experience of the audience’s time with that of the action on stage. The production’s clean cut and charming aesthetics were also embodied by delicate additions of colourful lanterns, and by the flicker of the final candlelit waltz. An uplifting and beautiful ending that completed the production with an ultimate, wispy brush stroke.