Arcadia at Bristol Tobacco Factory

Arcadia - Shakespeare At The Tobacco FactoryTOM Stoppard’s 1993 play Arcadia is a constant delight and revelation, no matter how many times you see it.

It’s probably the playwright’s cleverest play, set at Sidley Park, home of the Coverlys, in 1809 and the present day, and interweaving not just characters over two centuries but brilliantly constructed ideas and explanations from a time when the scientific world was in ferment.

Just for starters, 14-year-old Thomasina Croom is devouring Fermat’s Last Theorem with breakfast, under the charismatic tutelage of Septimus Hodge, while her 21st century cousin Valentine tries to find the universal equation behind the family’s historic Game Books – a history of grouse shooting on the estate.

Richard Noakes is about to re-model the famous Sidley Park gardens in the Romantic style, much to the horror of Lady Croom.

The conceit is that while garden writer Hannah Jarvis is visiting Sidley Park, another Arcadia - Shakespeare At The Tobacco Factoryacademic, Bernard Nightingale, pitches up to try and put meat on the bones of his theory of a Byronic connection, and, with the help of the mute Gus, a 200 year old mystery is solved – or about to be, as the curtain falls.

Andrew Hilton has taken this play by the man who honed his writing skills on the Bristol Evening Post (extraordinary idea in this Local World age!) and found even MORE delights in a production full of wit, energy and intellectual athletics.

There is no other way to approach Arcadia than helter-skelter, and the Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory cast brings out new nuances in this wonderful script.

Piers Wehner is an exceptional Septimus, combining fierce intelligence with sexual magnetism and vulnerability. Who could blame the feisty Lady Croom (another memorable performance by Dorothea Myer-Bennett) and her daughter Thomasina, charmingly portrayed by Hannah Lee, for falling for him.

Arcadia - Shakespeare At The Tobacco FactoryMatthew Thomas is the arrogant Bernard, all nerves and braggadocio, with Polly Frame as the rigorous Hannah and Jack Wharrier as the self-doubting mathematician Valentine.

This production, on at the Bedminster theatre until 3rd May, is a perfect joy, from beginning to end, whether your face aches from laughing or your brain from following Stoppard’s fleet imagination.

And there is the fascinating question of whether Lightning is actually Plautus – after all, the oldest recorded tortoise died at the age of 226!



Photographs by Graham Burke

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